Divine Intervention

In a web like Hell
How did I reach this place?
Why are they haunting me?
I cannot look at God’s face

Brilliant light
Trying to run
Want to scream, but cannot speak
I cannot look at God’s face

Blind my eyes, I can’t see
What is being done to me
In my mind only pain
All the memories are drained

Deathless torture
Void with no mercy
Black shroud blinds those who see

Naked before you I stand
Shattered shrine of flesh and bone
God’s piercing through my soul

Segments of my life
Morbid pieces of reality
Twisted personality
Many faces yet faceless
Familiar things give way to strange
No mercy no reason just pain

Sub-conscious control
Threshhold of pain unfolds
Transfixed martyr saving race
Who am I to judge thy grace?

In a web like Hell
How did I reach this place?
Why are they haunting me?
I cannot look at God’s face

Blind my eyes, I can’t see
What is being done to me
In my mind only pain
All the memories are drained

Delusions of Randeur: The missing link

[Reprised from SOLO, February 2008.]

An animal has no choice in the knowledge and the skills that it acquires; it can only repeat them generation after generation. And an animal has no choice in the standard of value directing its actions: its senses provide it with an automatic code of values, an automatic knowledge of what is good for it or evil, what benefits or endangers its life. An animal has no power to extend its knowledge or to evade it.

Man has no automatic code of survival. He has no automatic course of action, no automatic set of values. His senses do not tell him automatically what is good for him or evil, what will benefit his life or endanger it, what goals he should pursue and what means will achieve them, what values his life depends on, what course of action it requires. His own consciousness has to discover the answers to all these questions—but his consciousness will not function automatically. Man, the highest living species on this earth—the being whose consciousness has a limitless capacity for gaining knowledge—man is the only living entity born without any guarantee of remaining conscious at all.

Ayn Rand, The Objectivist Ethics

So… according to Rand, an animal has an automatic code of survival, but man does not.

Leaving aside the fact that man is an animal (a fact which has been common knowledge for nigh on 150 years), we must ask how man—a creature with, allegedly, no automatic code of survival but a limitless capacity for gaining knowledge—evolved from an ancestral Tetrapod with no power at all to extend its limited knowledge but completely reliant on an automatic code of survival.

Evolution is a process of gradual change in a population over time. Thus, either the origin of a creature so radically different from other animals as man was an act of special creation, or there existed a "missing link"—a creature with the power to extend its knowledge without limit and an automatic code of survival.

Evolution, of course, is the survival of the fittest. Obviously, a creature with a limitless capacity for gaining knowledge and an automatic code of survival is fitter than a creature with a limitless capacity for gaining knowledge but no automatic code of survival

So… according to Rand, we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. Rand’s conception of man—and, thus, her conception of man qua man—is irredeemably wrong.

The New Inklings

Earlier today I spent an enjoyable couple of hours and couple of beers with Glenn Peoples (of Say Hello to my Little Friend) at the Trax Bar and Cafe discussing philosophy, theology, politics and life in general.

We agreed that it would be a good idea to make our meeting (qua philosophy and theology discussion group) a regular event. We’re the only two Christian philosophers we know in Wellington, but we expect there are others. “Thoughtful and rational churchmen and women,” “educated priests and professors of theology,” and “senior clergy” (I’m gleefully quoting Richard Dawkins out of context here) are invited. If you know what ‘qua’ means, please consider joining us for the next meeting of the New Inklings.

When: 5 pm, Wednesday 12 December, 2012

Where: Trax Bar and Cafe, Platform 1, Wellington Railway Station

Topic: Theism, Atheism, and Rationality (a paper by Alvin Plantinga)

Contact: Richard or Glenn

The Inklings were a group of English writers who gathered on Tuesday mornings at the local pub to discuss the progress of their works in progress. The group famously included J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. The Inklings were predominantly theists. Today being the premiere of Peter Jackson’s movie of Tolkien’s The Hobbit in Wellington, the name ‘New Inklings’ naturally suggested itself.

The New Inklings is also an existing blog (not recently updated, unfortunately, but I’ve added them to the blogroll anyway).

Rand vs. Dawkins

One of Ayn Rand’s better essays is called The Argument From Intimidation.

There is a certain type of argument which, in fact, is not an argument, but a means of forestalling debate and extorting an opponent’s agreement with one’s undiscussed notions. It is a method of bypassing logic by means of psychological pressure. It consists of threatening to impeach an opponent’s character by means of his position, thus impeaching the position without debate. Example: “Anyone who would question that the perpetrator of mass murder on American soil didn’t deserve what he got needs to have their head examined.” The falsehood of the position is asserted arbitrarily and offered as proof of the opponent’s immorality.

In today’s epistemological jungle, this method is used more frequently than any other type of irrational argument. It should be classified as a logical fallacy and may be designated as “The Argument from Intimidation.”

The essential characteristic of the Argument from Intimidation is its appeal to moral self-doubt and its reliance on the fear, guilt or ignorance of the victim. It is used in the form of an ultimatum demanding that the victim renounce a given idea without discussion, under threat of being considered morally unworthy. The pattern is always: “Only those who are evil (dishonest, heartless, insensitive, ignorant, deluded, etc.) can hold such an idea.”

You can read the whole thing (minus “Goblian interpolations”) here. But I’ve given you the gist of it.

Rand vs. Dawkins

I’m currently reading The Greatest Show on Earth: the Evidence for Evolution by Richard Dawkins. I’ve just finished reading Chapter One and, so far, Dawkins has not presented one jot of evidence. Not even a skerrick. In lieu of evidence, Dawkins commits the logical fallacy that Rand identified and dubbed the Argument from Intimidation. Not just once, but … umpteen times.

First, though, to warm up, Dawkins likens creationists to Holocaust-deniers …

Imagine you are a teacher of more recent history, and your lessons on twentieth-century Europe are boycotted, heckled or otherwise disrupted by well-organized, well-financed and politically muscular groups of Holocaust-deniers. … Holocaust-deniers … are vocal, superficially plausible, and adept at seeming learned. They are supported by the president of at least one currently powerful state, and they include at least one bishop of the Roman Catholic Church. Imagine that, as a teacher of European history, you are continually faced with belligerent demands to ‘teach the controversy’, and to give ‘equal time’ to the ‘alternative theory’ that the Holocaust never happened but was invented by a bunch of Zionist fabricators. Fashionably relativist intellectuals chime in to insist that there is no absolute truth: whether the Holocaust happened is a matter of personal belief; all points of view are equally valid and should be equally ‘respected’.

The plight of many science teachers today is not less dire. When they attempt to expound the central and guiding principle of biology; when they honestly place the living world in its historical context – which means evolution; when they explore and explain the very nature of life itself, they are harried and stymied, hassled and bullied, even threatened with loss of their jobs. At the very least their time is wasted at every turn. They are likely to receive menacing letters from parents, and have to endure the sarcastic smirks and close-folded arms of brainwashed children. They are supplied with state-approved textbooks that have had the word ‘evolution’ systematically expunged, or bowdlerized into ‘change over time’. Once, we were tempted to laugh this kind of thing off as a peculiarly American phenomenon. Teachers in Britain and Europe now face the same problems, partly because of American influence, but more significantly because of the growing Islamic presence in the classroom – abetted by the official commitment to ‘multiculturalism’ and the terror of being thought racist.

… and blames Muslims, multiculturalists and their pusillanimous appeasers for resistance to his ideas in the classroom.

Next, Dawkins ingratiates himself with the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury, “senior clergy,” other “educated priests and professors of theology” and “thoughtful and rational churchmen and women” all of whom tout the luke-warm liberal doctrine of theistic evolution and supposedly agree with Dawkins that

Nowadays there is nothing to debate. Evolution is a fact and, from a Christian perspective, one of the greatest of God’s works.

Dawkins reproduces an open letter to the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, jointly penned by himself and the then Bishop of Oxford, Richard Harries.

Dear Prime Minister,

We write as a group of scientists and Bishops to express our concern about the teaching of science in the Emmanuel City Technology College in Gateshead. Evolution is a scientific theory of great explanatory power, able to account for a wide range of phenomena in a number of disciplines. It can be refined, confirmed and even radically altered by attention to evidence. It is not, as spokesmen for the college maintain, a ‘faith position’ in the same category as the biblical account of creation which has a different function and purpose. The issue goes wider than what is currently being taught in one college. There is a growing anxiety about what will be taught and how it will be taught in the new generation of proposed faith schools. We believe that the curricula in such schools, as well as that of Emmanuel City Technology College, need to be strictly monitored in order that the respective disciplines of science and religious studies are properly respected.

Yours sincerely

The Rt Revd Richard Harries, Bishop of Oxford; Sir David Attenborough FRS; The Rt Revd Christopher Herbert, Bishop of St Albans; Lord May of Oxford, President of the Royal Society;Professor John Enderby FRS, Physical Secretary, Royal Society; The Rt Revd John Oliver, Bishop of Hereford; The Rt Revd Mark Santer, Bishop of Birmingham; Sir Neil Chalmers, Director, Natural History Museum; The Rt Revd Thomas Butler, Bishop of Southwark; Sir Martin Rees FRS, Astronomer Royal; The Rt Revd Kenneth Stevenson, Bishop of Portsmouth; Professor Patrick Bateson FRS, Biological Secretary, Royal Society; The Rt Revd Crispian Hollis, Roman Catholic Bishop of Portsmouth; Sir Richard Southwood FRS; Sir Francis Graham-Smith FRS, Past Physical Secretary, Royal Society; Professor Richard Dawkins FRS

Note how the authors, chillingly, want school curricula to be “strictly monitored” for conformance to doctrines approved by Dawkins.

Here are some further excerpts from the remainder of Chapter One. I’ve bolded some words to identify the numerous occasions on which Dawkins resorts to Rand’s Argument from Intimidation and his also numerous (and as yet unargued for) assertions that evolution is a fact.

Bishops and theologians who have attended to the evidence for evolution have given up the struggle against it. Some may do so reluctantly, some, like Richard Harries, enthusiastically, but all except the woefully uninformed are forced to accept the fact of evolution.

More than 40 per cent of Americans deny that humans evolved from other animals, and think that we – and by implication all of life – were created by God within the last 10,000 years. … I shall be using the name ‘history-deniers‘ for those people who deny evolution: who believe the world’s age is measured in thousands of years rather than thousands of millions of years, and who believe humans walked with dinosaurs. … they constitute more than 40 per cent of the American population. … I shall from time to time refer to the history-deniers as the ‘40-percenters‘.

To return to the enlightened bishops and theologians, it would be nice if they’d put a bit more effort into combating the anti-scientific nonsense that they deplore. All too many preachers, while agreeing that evolution is true and Adam and Eve never existed, will then blithely go into the pulpit and make some moral or theological point about Adam and Eve in their sermons without once mentioning that, of course, Adam and Eve never actually existed! If challenged, they will protest that they intended a purely ‘symbolic’ meaning, perhaps something to do with ‘original sin’, or the virtues of innocence. They may add witheringly that, obviously, nobody would be so foolish as to take their words literally. But do their congregations know that? How is the person in the pew, or on the prayer-mat, supposed to know which bits of scripture to take literally, which symbolically? Is it really so easy for an uneducated churchgoer to guess? In all too many cases the answer is clearly no, and anybody could be forgiven for feeling confused.

Think about it, Bishop. Be careful, Vicar. … Shouldn’t you take greater care, when speaking in public, to let your yea be yea and your nay be nay? Lest ye fall into condemnation …

The history-deniers themselves are among those that I am trying to reach in this book. But, perhaps more importantly, I aspire to arm those who are not history-deniers but know some – perhaps members of their own family or church – and find themselves inadequately prepared to argue the case.

Evolution is a fact. Beyond reasonable doubt, beyond serious doubt, beyond sane, informed, intelligent doubt, beyond doubt evolution is a fact. …Evolution is a fact, and this book will demonstrate it. No reputable scientist disputes it, and no unbiased reader will close the book doubting it. Why, then, do we speak of ‘Darwin’s theory of evolution’, thereby, it seems, giving spurious comfort to those of a creationist persuasion – the history-deniers, the 40-percenters – who think the word ‘theory’ is a concession, handing them some kind of gift or victory?

Even the undisputed theory that the moon is smaller than the sun cannot, to the satisfaction of a certain kind of philosopher, be proved … But massive accretions of evidence support it so strongly that to deny it the status of ‘fact’ seems ridiculous to all but pedants. The same is true of evolution.

A scientific theorum has not been – cannot be – proved in the way a mathematical theorem is proved. But common sense treats it as a fact in the same sense as the ‘theory’ that the Earth is round and not flat is a fact, and the theory that green plants obtain energy from the sun is a fact. All are scientific theorums: supported by massive quantities of evidence, accepted by all informed observers, undisputed facts in the ordinary sense of the word.

This book will take inference seriously – not mere inference but proper scientific inference – and I shall show the irrefragable power of the inference that evolution is a fact.

The slow drifting apart of South America and Africa is now an established fact in the ordinary language sense of ‘fact’, and so is our common ancestry with porcupines and pomegranates.

Our present beliefs about many things may be disproved, but we can with complete confidence make a list of certain facts that will never be disproved. Evolution and the heliocentric theory weren’t always among them, but they are now.

Biologists often make a distinction between the fact of evolution (all living things are cousins), and the theory of what drives it (they usually mean natural selection, and they may contrast it with rival theories such as Lamarck’s theory of ‘use and disuse’ and the ‘inheritance of acquired characteristics’). But Darwin himself thought of both as theories in the tentative, hypothetical, conjectural sense. This was because, in those days, the available evidence was less compelling and it was still possible for reputable scientists to dispute both evolution and natural selection. Nowadays it is no longer possible to dispute the fact of evolution itself – it has graduated to become a theorum or obviously supported fact – but it could still (just) be doubted that natural selection is its major driving force.

By the time Darwin came to publish On the Origin of Species in 1859, he had amassed enough evidence to propel evolution itself, though still not natural selection, a long way towards the status of fact. Indeed, it was this elevation from hypothesis towards fact that occupied Darwin for most of his great book. The elevation has continued until, today, there is no longer a doubt in any serious mind, and scientists speak, at least informally, of the fact of evolution. All reputable biologists go on to agree that natural selection is one of its most important driving forces, although – as some biologists insist more than others – not the only one. Even if it is not the only one, I have yet to meet a serious biologist who can point to an alternative to natural selection as a driving force of adaptive evolution – evolution towards positive improvement.

In the rest of this book, I shall demonstrate that evolution is an inescapable fact, and celebrate its astonishing power, simplicity and beauty. Evolution is within us, around us, between us, and its workings are embedded in the rocks of aeons past.

I’m now half of the way through Chapter Two. It’s a big improvement on Chapter One, but there’s still no evidence for evolution in sight … stay tuned.

[Cross-posted to SOLO.]

Justice for false witnesses

Deuteronomy 19:15-21

A single witness shall not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or any sin which he has committed; on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed.

If a malicious witness rises up against a man to accuse him of wrongdoing, then both the men who have the dispute shall stand before the LORD, before the priests and the judges who will be in office in those days.

The judges shall investigate thoroughly, and if the witness is a false witness and he has accused his brother falsely, then you shall do to him just as he had intended to do to his brother.

Thus you shall purge the evil from among you. The rest will hear and be afraid, and will never again do such an evil thing among you.

Thus you shall not show pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.

State rapes former Barnardos counsellor

My friend Johan’s story is on stuff today – well a small part of his story.

There are a few bits I’d like to comment on…

A former Barnardos counsellor is trying to sue police and Child, Youth and Family for defamation after they contacted his employer about unproven allegations that he touched some girls he was counselling.

Johan Aarts, 46, of Rotorua, says his career was destroyed when Barnardos was told of the allegations in 2006.

He has been fighting to clear his name ever since.

But Aarts suffered a setback in his attempt to sue the Crown departments last week, when a High Court judge in Rotorua granted a temporary stay of proceedings, mainly on the grounds that the case was still before the Employment Court.

Hmm… it’ll be interesting to see if any charges result from that last paragraph.

Aarts has gone public with his story because he wants to send a warning to other men in counselling and teaching positions that police or CYF will contact employers even when investigations have found no evidence of inappropriate behaviour.

In 2006, two sisters, aged 12 and 13, alleged that Aarts had touched their legs, put his hand in one’s lap, cuddled them and put his head against theirs during domestic violence counselling sessions two years earlier.

It’s not clear if the children actually made these allegations – in fact the evidence that’s been released so far indicates that the Police and CYF made up these allegations after Barnardos decided to keep Johan on as an employee. One CYF document states “the children did not disclose any inappropriate behaviour”.

Aarts denied this, saying the only touching was the occasional pat of encouragement on the shoulder. CYF called police, who conducted an investigation.

In June 2006, Detective Matt McLeod wrote to Barnardos to say that, while there were “no disclosures from the girls in respect to criminal offences”, the girls had felt uncomfortable and scared.

He said police considered Aarts’ actions to be “very inappropriate” and he had warned Aarts that he needed to be careful about placing himself in situations where such allegations could be made.

Documents obtained under the Official Information Act by Aarts and his supporters show that CYF staff originally referred to Aarts as “the perpetrator” and the incidents as “substantiated sexual abuse”, until police advised that the alleged incidents did not amount to such. One internal document said: “It may be that he has not committed any crimes yet, but his behaviour has all the hallmarks of grooming and without a conviction and without advising any professional body, he could easily get a job elsewhere as a counsellor”.

CYF wrote to Barnardos, which it funds, reminding it of its responsibilities to protect children and asking what action it planned to take.

CYF said in the letter: “You will be aware that the police do not consider that Mr Aarts’ behaviour constitutes a criminal act, however this does not reduce the level of concern that CYF has.”

A Barnardos regional manager wrote back to say that Aarts had had regular supervision, no concerns had been raised about him previously and “like the police report, we were unable to prove any inappropriate behaviour took place. Johan continues to deny he has done, or would ever do, anything wrong”.

However, Barnardos no longer had confidence in “Johan’s professional boundaries” and his continued employment “could put children at risk”. Aarts was then sacked.

It was only after CYF threatened Barnardos’ funding reminded Barnardos of their responsibilities that Barnardos lost confidence in Johan.

Aarts took a case for unjustified dismissal to the Employment Relations Authority last year, but it was ruled that it was lodged too late. He appealed to the Employment Court, which will rule in March.

It took a long time to figure out what happened and there’s still more to figure out. State employees have been obstructive the whole way.

Obstruct… obstruct… obstruct… obstruct… obstruct… sorry you are out of time.

His defamation action also comes out of time, and he has asked the High Court for leave for it to be heard.

Crown lawyer Antoinette Russell said in submissions that if leave was granted, a qualified privilege defence would be run, which afforded protection to a person acting in good faith and without improper motive making a defamatory statement.

“There is a clear public interest in New Zealand police freely and frankly communicating with the employer of a counsellor who was alleged to have acted inappropriately towards children . . . and in CYF ensuring the bodies it funds . . . are meeting service standards.”

The Crown lawyer is arguing that what the Police say to your employer about you is “privileged” i.e. it should be kept secret from you. What the Crown Lawyer is arguing would deny people the opportunity to defend any accusations that the Police (or any state employee) made to an employer. Disgusting.

Aarts has been fighting for the release of the videotaped interviews with the children, because he believes they will show that the police did not provide an accurate account of what was said. Police have refused to release the tapes on privacy grounds.

The privacy grounds is BS. At one point Police National Head Quarters ruled that Johan could view the interviews then the Police District Commander prevented the viewing from happening. Now everybody is trying to prevent the viewing.

“Why is it that the police can contact my employer, make damaging statements about me, causing me to get sacked, but they don’t have to provide any evidence?”

Their eyes bulge with fat

Surely God is good to Israel,
to those who are pure in heart.

But as for me, my feet had almost slipped;
I had nearly lost my foothold.
For I envied the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

They have no struggles;
their bodies are healthy and strong.
They are free from common human burdens;
they are not plagued by human ills.
Therefore pride is their necklace;
they clothe themselves with violence.
From their callous hearts comes iniquity;
their evil imaginations have no limits.
They scoff, and speak with malice;
with arrogance they threaten oppression.
Their mouths lay claim to heaven,
and their tongues take possession of the earth.
Therefore their people turn to them
and drink up waters in abundance.
They say, “How would God know?
Does the Most High know anything?”

This is what the wicked are like—
always free of care, they go on amassing wealth.

Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure
and have washed my hands in innocence.
All day long I have been afflicted,
and every morning brings new punishments.

If I had spoken out like that,
I would have betrayed your children.
When I tried to understand all this,
it troubled me deeply
till I entered the sanctuary of God;
then I understood their final destiny.

Surely you place them on slippery ground;
you cast them down to ruin.
How suddenly are they destroyed,
completely swept away by terrors!
They are like a dream when one awakes;
when you arise, Lord,
you will despise them as fantasies.

When my heart was grieved
and my spirit embittered,
I was senseless and ignorant;
I was a brute beast before you.

Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will take me into glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.

Those who are far from you will perish;
you destroy all who are unfaithful to you.
But as for me, it is good to be near God.
I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge;
I will tell of all your deeds. (NIV)

Affirmation @ 6:15.

It’s daylight now @6am.
@ Home. Climb out of car.
Shut the gate and Nightshift behind me.
In the Weed Garden a Crimson Rose is in Full Bloom.
I must divert.

Nose deep in the Petals.
Blisful Contemplation.
Time to Chill.

The fool hath said in his heart “There is no God”!