Tuesday, July 15, 2014

And the problem with authority is ... what?

Ed LaBar comments on the previous post that I made "a blatant appeal to authority when you ask whether or not the drafters of the 14th intended for it to cover same sex marriage." He was referring to the question I asked Chris Hartman when he claimed the 14th amendment somehow required that marriage be a genderless institution.

My initial response to Ed was this:
What is the problem with appealing to authority? Appealing to judicial precedent is an appeal to authority; appealing to research is an appeal to authority; appealing to the language of the Constitution is an appeal to authority. 
What's your problem with authority?
Ultimately, of course, everything is based on authority at some point, even if it's the authority of the senses (and even that Rene Descartes brings into question).

Liberals like to pretend to question authority. It's like wearing a Che T-shirt: It gives you all the appearance of being stylishly revolutionary, but it costs you absolutely nothing.

Same Sex Marriage in KY: Excerpts from last night's televised debate

Here is an excerpt from last night's debate on KET's Kentucky Tonight, on which I was a guest:

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Waiting for Goaldot

After 120 minutes playing time in the Argentina vs. Netherlands game, the score was 0 - 0.

Just sayin'.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Cothran's First Law of Tolerance: In which we explain the mechanism by which liberals are now so coercive

Whatever was once prohibited and must now be allowed will eventually become mandatory, and was once mandatory and must now be allowed will eventually be prohibited.

This is just the same principle working in two directions at once. This can be seen operating now in the gay rights and same-sex marriage debates.

The first clause of this law can be seen in the recognition of the legitimacy of homosexuality and gay marriage, until only recently phrased in terms of permissiveness and which has now metastasized into one of imperative. Allowing people to act on their sexual "orientation" (itself an imperative word that replaced the more permissive "preference") is fast being replaced by mandating that people acknowledge its legitimacy through gay rights laws now having been passed in city after city.

The second clause can be seen in the increasing restrictions on those who disagree with the progressivist consensus who are not only not allowed to restrict the definition of marriage to what it always meant, but who are now being told by judges who have suddenly discovered that the 14th amendment mandated genderless marriage are now prohibiting states from defining marriage this way.

These twin tendencies, of course, violate the very principle of tolerance (tolerance being a permissive concept) in favor of a coerciveness of the kind that the champions of tolerance once condemned.

The "Demon Irony": Classic literature as an antidote to modern thought

The following article is featured in the new Classical Teacher magazine:

When the movie Les Misérables came out last year, my wife and I went to see it with several of our adult children, none of whom are fans of musicals. I don't know how this happened. My daughter was the only one who would even consent to sit down and watch “The Sound of Music” with me.

But their reaction to Les Misérables was interesting: There they were, sitting there, loving the movie. In fact, one of my sons declared that it was one of the best movies he had ever seen.

Somewhere in their youth or childhood, I must have done something good.

In the case of Les Misérables, I expected that my children would be the movie’s harshest critics. But they weren’t. The harshest critics, as it turned out, were the critics.

Although my children gave the movie a thumbs up, many highbrow reviewers didn’t like it at all. Not one bit.
A week or so after the movie came out, Stanley Fish, on his blog at the New York Times, reacted to the hostility of many of these reviewers by going and seeing the movie himself—twice: “The first time I liked it,” he said. “The second time I loved it.”

So what was the problem with the critics? Fish said he found his answer in an interview with Les Mis director Tom Hooper in USA Today. “The time we live in,” said Hooper, “is a postmodern age where a certain amount of irony is expected. This film is made without irony.”

Fish goes on to explain what irony does:
Irony is a stance of distance that pays a compliment to both its producer and consumer. The ironist knows what other, more naïve, observers do not: that surfaces are deceptive, that the real story is not what presents itself, that conventional pieties are sentimental fictions.
The artist who deploys irony tests the sophistication of his audience and divides it into two parts, those in the know and those who live in a fool’s paradise. Irony creates a privileged vantage point from which you can frame and stand aloof from a world you are too savvy to take at face value. Irony is the essence of the critical attitude, of the observer’s cool gaze; every reviewer who is not just a bourgeois cheerleader (and no reviewer will admit to being that) is an ironist.
This explains not just why critics didn’t like particular movies, but why so much of modern art, particularly film and literature, are the way they are and why we react to them the way we do.

The irony that Fish alludes to is a form of cynicism—and of arrogance.  Critics are guilty of it, but we—not just critics and authors and film makers, but we the audience—respond to it. It is the attitude by which we both make and view narrative art today. We are invited by the director or author to deconstruct a story and its characters, to tear them down, to subvert them, an invitation to which we readily respond.

I have long wondered why my students are at first put off by older literature in which the conflict involves a morally upright hero and in which the conflict is extrinsic—between the hero and some evil force or person (rather than the intrinsic psychological dramas of today). It is not as if they have never come across such a tale. They have read plenty of children's stories in their time.

The problem is that, while they will read them, their inclination is not to believe them. They consider them idealistic. These works don't seem to speak to life as it really is. Students bring a cynical attitude toward what we have them read. They are not critics (at least not yet), but they are full-fledged ironists.

We are trained to be this way by the culture around us. If you look at modern film and our entertainment culture in general, you see irony everywhere.

One recent evening, I turned on the television and landed on a channel that was playing The Lone Ranger. I had not seen it in the theater, so here was my chance.

Being in my mid-50s now, I am of the generation that saw my share of reruns of the original television show. So I was curious as to what Hollywood would do with it (or to it).

In the old television show, the Lone Ranger was a serious character, as was Tonto, his Indian companion. They were strong and good and they fought the bad guys, who were not good and definitely not as strong (partly, as it used to be thought, because they were not good). It was a serious show: There was a moral earnestness to it that characterized most of the shows on television and at the movie theaters of that time. When it came to chasing and capturing the bad guys, there wasn’t any joking around.

I imagine that if I watched the show today, I would find it fairly shallow and boring.

The movie, I found, was very different. There was the pretension of good—the evil railroad owner was desecrating Indian land (not to mention just being an all around jerk) and the Lone Ranger and Tonto were trying to foil his plans—but at the same time neither character was a traditional hero.

Unlike the old television series, Tonto was the real leader and he basically has to drag the less than enthusiastic Lone Ranger (who is portrayed as something of a wimp) along with him on his quest. In addition, Tonto provides the comic relief. Much of his dialogue consists of wisecracks. Neither of them were what we would call role models. The Lone Ranger was not a drama. The good guys had become comic figures. The movie was far more interesting and entertaining than the television show, I have to admit. And yet I didn’t like it very much. It had other kinds of problems that any mediocre movie has, but there was something else about it that bothered me.

What I realized after I thought about it a bit was that it too had been ironized. In fact, the very purpose of the movie was clearly to take the original idea of the show, which had a kind of nobility, and to deconstruct it. At almost every point, the movie is a complete inversion of the original.

In the TV series, you never knew who the Lone Ranger really was, but in the movie, we are allowed to see behind the mask, and behind the mask is no hero at all, but a figure mostly comic.

This impulse to unmask the conventional is all over our culture. It affects our sports and entertainment media, as well as the news.

 Gone are the days when Mickey Mantle could come to the plate stone drunk and no one know about it but the other players—and the sportswriters, who kept it a secret. (Mantle admitted to it later on, saying he would see three balls coming at him. "I just hit the middle one," he said.)

And how many times have we seen the media swarm around a movie star or famous musician who has fallen from grace and who is then the subject of about a week's worth of coverage on CNN, whose producers are well aware of our lust to know what these people are really like underneath all that makeup and pretension? What a comfort it is to the rest of us to know that they're really no better than we are.

One recent event was a telling measure of how far irony has taken root in our public discourse.  When David Letterman recently retired from NBC's "The Late Show," he was replaced by Stephen Colbert. Letterman was more simply a comedian, but Colbert is an arch-ironist.

Colbert’s show, "The Colbert Report," differs from "The Late Show" in that it is almost pure satire. Colbert does not play himself as host of his show ... or does he? So wedded is his character to himself in ironical union that his Wikipedia page describes him thusly: “Stephen Colbert is the persona of political satirist Stephen Colbert.”

Colbert’s character is a send-up of various prominent television pundits. As Deborah Solomon at the New York Times has put it, Colbert plays a “well-intentioned, poorly informed high-status idiot.” He is pompous, overly confident in his opinions, and self-obsessed. And we are expected to believe, not what he says, but exactly the opposite.

Colbert’s show, along with John Stewart’s “The Daily Show,” were conceived as political humor shows, engaged in lampooning the serious shows that serve as the the primary news sources for many Americans. But according to one report, for as many as 25 percent of young adults under 30, The "Colbert Report" and the "Daily Show" together are now their main source of news.

These shows were designed to be parasitical on the mainstream news shows. But with Colbert now set to occupy Letterman's chair, we are seeing a complete cultural inversion. Where the serious was once supreme and satire subordinate, irony now rules.

We live under the sun, where we know there is nothing new. Irony existed even in ancient Greece. The comic playwright Aristophanes mercilessly lampooned Socrates. But the comic poets, who employed a destructive kind of irony, were always subordinate to the tragic poets, whose irony was sympathetic. And both of these were subordinate to the epics of Homer, which contained no irony at all.

Modern irony differs from ancient irony in two ways. First, it is almost entirely destructive. The tragic irony of a story like that of Sophocle's Oedipus led the viewer to sympathize with the hero who is being victimized by fate. The greatest of the Greek playwrights wrote tragedies, but tragedies, like epics, are almost entirely absent from modern  literature and film.

 Behind the old irony was a recognition, if not an affirmation, of an underlying metaphysical hierarchy with greatness at the top and meanness at the bottom. It was an order in which the hero ranked high. But behind the new irony is a rejection of that order. The belief in a logos—an ordering principle of reality—underlay the old irony; the belief in nothingness underlies the new. The old irony was theological; the new irony is nihilistic.

The Christian philosopher Søren Kierkegaard praised irony when it was used to allow one to stand above and judge himself: He called this "mastered" irony. But he condemned the kind of irony that allowed one to stand above and judge the world, as if he were not part of it himself: This was "unmastered" irony. This kind of irony, he said (echoing Hegel), was "infinite absolute negativity." This is why  literary critic Irving Howe once called  irony the "gospel of chaos" and why one of Dostoevsky's characters in his novel The Possessed termed it "the demon irony."

But the chief difference between traditional and modern narrative is not that the modern contains irony and the classical does not. The chief difference is that, in modern culture irony has become the chief literary and critical mode. Satire and cynicism now predominate in an unprecedented way. What are the cultural consequences of a situation in which, for many people, the parasitical has become the primary? How does it affect the way people think when they are saturated in the sarcastic? What happens when parody becomes the primary mode of cultural cognition?

The most obvious consequence of the dominance of modern irony is that there can no longer be a hero. This is why we no longer see epic stories being written today. The only epic hero story of any consequence written in the last 100 years is J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and the only reason it exists in the modern world at all is because it is not modern. Although written in the 20th century, it is of another time—a time in which greatness was acknowledged. It is the same in American films: There are a few exceptions—like Ridley Scott's film Gladiator―but they are the exception that proves the rule.

And with the hero goes the good guy in general. "All writers," said Dostoevsky, in a  letter to his niece in 1868, "and not only ours, but even all Europeans who have tried to portray the positively good man have always failed." Dostoevsky underscored his point about the impossibility of a good character in modern literature by writing his story The Idiot. The protagonist Myshkin is good, but he has to be portrayed as a complete misfit.

"Of the good figures in Christian literature," said Dostoevsky, "the most perfect is Don Quixote. But he is good only because at the same time he is ridiculous and succeeds only by virtue of that fact."

Even the good characters of children's literature, which one would expect to be the last bastion of innocence, are being assailed by the satirists. In a culture in which many children never read classic children's stories, books such as Honestly, Red Riding Hood Was Rotten!: The Story of Little Red Riding Hood as Told by the Wolf; and Seriously, Cinderella Is SO Annoying! The Story of Cinderella as told by the Wicked Stepmother are now common fare.

There are children who have never read the Three Little Pigs who do know The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig.  I remember going with my family to see the movie Shrek and wondering how many of the children in the theater watching it actually knew the fairy tales which it so gleefully fractured.

But there is a child even in the modern adult, which is perhaps the reason superheroes are so popular at the box office. Despite our cynicism, the hero is still preserved in Superman, Batman, and Iron Man. The superheroes now so common at the theater are heroes, but they are also either historically distant or utterly fantastic. We seem to have driven the hero into our cultural subconscious, and he has turned back up in Metropolis, the Bat Cave, and Stark Tower.

There is nothing wrong with irony as long as it does not become villainous and try to take over the world. But the ironic should always be subordinate to the heroic, which is why classical literature is such a great corrective to modern literature and film. It preserves the hero, and he is primary.

Grounding ourselves and our children in books like the Iliad and the Odyssey, the Aeneid, and the Divine Comedy (as well as classic children's literature)―unironic stories which portray characters living in a morally ordered world―will not only keep us metaphysically grounded in the True and the Good, but will better equip us to appreciate the ironic when it is appropriate.

One of the disadvantages of putting irony first is that it undermines even irony itself.  When everything is satirical, what is there to satirize? Irony encourages us to see through things. But "if you can see through everything," said C. S. Lewis, "then there is nothing left to see."

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Emperor penguins threatened by climate scientists

The judgment of climate scientists is apparently suffering from the fact that they are drowning in grant money to promote the idea of a global crisis. Try to make sense of these two headlines in recent days:

July 6 NPR Headline: "Study Shows Penguins Endangered By Waning Antarctic Ice." This is priceless. If you look at the interview of Hal Caswell, the author of this "study," what you notice is he never says that the penguins are actually endangered now (nor does the abstract of the study itself). It's all his "anticipation." This is all, he says, in the interest of getting Emperor penguins on the endangered species list which "would provide more impetus to take action on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and slowing or halting climate change." The very impetus of the study is political.

But what is all this about "waning Antarctic Ice"? which brings us to the second headline:

July 5 Daily Mail: "Global warming computer models confounded as Antarctic sea ice hits new record high with 2.1 million square miles more than is usual for time of year." What was that about "waning ? Yup: An area the size of Greenland, which is normally open water, is frozen. And this isn't just an anomaly. This has apparently been the trend in recent years--not only in Antarctica, but the entire southern hemisphere.

And as we know, climate scientists always have an escape hatch. Here is Caswell talking about the poor penguins, who lose no matter what happens:

So this species breeds in colonies on sea ice. They make this long march from the edge of the ocean to breed in the middle of the winter. So if there's too much sea ice, that trudge to bring food to the chicks gets longer and more energetically expensive for the penguins, and this cuts down on their breeding success. On the other hand, if there's too little sea ice, then the basis of the Antarctic food web is not as productive.

They can't win! The climatologists have them coming and going. They don't stand a chance. But it saves climate scientists in the end because (just as both cold and warm weather confirm their theory) it keeps their theory unfalsifiable.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

An Argument for the Existence of God: Step 1

By Thomas Cothran

This is the third post in the ongoing series presenting an argument for the existence of God. In this post we move into the argument itself, taking the first step toward an argument for the existence of God.

In this first step, I will show that at least one unconditioned reality exists. First, we will define what it means to be a conditioned or unconditioned reality. Then we will proceed to demonstrate that the assertion "there is no unconditioned reality" logically entails that there are no realities at all. In other words, the claim that there are no unconditioned realities is logically equivalent to saying that nothing exists.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Gays "politically powerless," says judge in succumbing to political pressure from gay rights groups

The Family Foundation just sent this out:

LEXINGTON, KY--"After charging that arguments in favor of traditional marriage were 'not those of serious people', Judge Heyburn goes on to argue that gays are 'politically powerless'," said a spokeman for The Family Foundation. The group helped pass the Marriage Amendment struck down today in Heyburn's decision, Love v. Beshear.

"If you want an example of how bad the reasoning is in today's decision striking down Kentucky's Marriage Protection Amendment," said Martin Cothran, senior policy analyst for the group, "just look at the judge's argument declaring gays a 'quasi-suspect class' for purposes of laws relating to discrimination. It's not pretty."

Says the judge: "[T]he Court finds that homosexual persons are 'politically powerless' within the constitutional meaning of this phrase."

"We're thinking this judge needs to get out a little more," said Cothran. "Or maybe he could just subscribe to a newspaper or possibly turn on the television, where he could see just how politically powerless are the people whose political power helped produce this decision."


The Love decision and the Judicial Doctrine of Selective Precedent

If they're not careful, liberal judges are going to give sophistry a bad name.

Has anyone noticed that, when it comes to any ruling related to marriage or sex, the doctrine of legal precedent goes out the window?

In place has been installed the Doctrine of Selective Precedent, which can be summarized thusly: "If a precedent results in a politically conservative outcome, it is automatically suspect, if not entirely invalid; if, however, the precedent has liberal political consequences, it is to be adhered to religiously ..., er, wait, we can't have that. Let's say, 'strictly'."

In today's ruling by John G. Heyburn striking down Kentucky's Marriage Amendment, the judge acknowledges that in the Baker v. Nelson decision,
... the Supreme Court dismissed "for want of a substantial federal question" a challenge to a Minnesota Supreme Court ruling, which found that a same-sex couple did not have the right to marry under the federal Due Process or Equal Protection Clauses.
Judicial precedent, right? Wrong.

Having what we would now consider a conservative consequence, this precedent cannot be seen as being, um, precedential. It's a precedent, but it's not. It's a precedent that we don't need to pay attention to―as opposed to a liberal precedent that we should all stand up and salute.

Here's Heyburn on Baker, striking his most judicially activist pose:
Such a summary dismissal is usually binding precedent..., unless doctrinal developments indicate that the Court would rule differently now.... Today, it is difficult to take seriously the argument that Baker bars Plaintiffs’ challenge.
Boom. Down it goes. These liberals make invalidity seem so easy.

Why does he say this? "Since 1972,"he says, "a virtual tidal wave of pertinent doctrinal developments has swept across the constitutional landscape."

That's it! Seriously: Read the decision. In other words, we can't take it seriously because we haven't taken it seriously―or more to the point, because we don't want to take it seriously. This is the Doctrine of Selective Precedent.

Marriage Policy Under Martial Law: Federal judge strikes down KY's Marriage Amendment

The Family Foundation's new press release:

LEXINGTON, KY— "For all practical purposes, Judge G. Heyburn has declared martial law on marriage policy in Kentucky," said a spokesman for the group that led the effort to pass the Marriage Protection Amendment in 2004 in response to today's decision by a federal court to strike down Kentucky's marriage law. "This decision is another indication that we are no longer a nation of laws, but a nation of judges."

Martin Cothran, senior policy analyst with The Family Foundation, criticized the reasoning in the decision to strike down Kentucky's marriage law: "The judge cited 'doctrinal developments' by other federal judges that ignored judicial precedent in favor of traditional marriage laws as a reason for invalidating our law. This raises the 'everybody else is doing it' principle to a judicial doctrine."

The group said that Judge John Heyburn's decision ignored the language of the US Supreme Court's recent Windsor decision in which it said that the definition of marriage was still up to individual states.

"By taking another important area of policy out of the hands of voters, liberal judges have struck another blow against the separation of powers that is an underlying principle of our form of government."


Monday, June 30, 2014

Supremes: Stop in the name of ... Religion

The four liberal justices aren't happy about honoring religious freedom. They may need to go take a pill:
In a highly anticipated decision on Monday, the Supreme Court has ruled that companies cannot be required to pay for contraception coverage for their employees if it violates their religious beliefs. In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the justices found that "closely held" private businesses have the same rights under the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act as non-profit organizations. 
Read more here.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Ignorance Indefatigable: Jerry Coyne Surprised by Divine Impassibility

Jerry Coyne claims to have "spent several years reading theology before [deciding] that it was a mind-numbing and largely worthless exercise." He also claims to have made "extensive incursions into theology and science."

Now Coyne is certainly not a respectable commentator on religion and its relation to science. A certain lack of intellectual rigor for a non-academic is inevitable. But he is a blogger who has something a following online, and he is known as a hanger-on of the New Atheist movement. His ineptitude when it comes to religious matters, then, is a case study of the low intellectual standards of the New Atheists.

I've previously offered several examples in which Coyne shows that he doesn't grasp the most basic claims of Christian theology. Coyne's descriptions of what Christian theology shows pretty clearly that his "years of reading theology" is a fib.

Consider these examples:

  • Coyne claims that Augustine and Aquinas don't think God is the source of being. In fact, Augustine said that God is being itself, "the absolute fullness of being and thus the sole primeval source of all being ...." Likewise, Aquinas held that God is "ipsum esse subsistens" (subsistent being itself).
  • Coyne thinks that the doctrine of the Incarnation says that "God turning himself into his son ...." But Christians don't believe that Jesus Christ is the Father made into human form. This sort of thing has always been rejected as a heresy related to Sabellianism. (Sabellianism was condemned as a heresy upon its appearance around the turn of the Third Century.
  • Coyne claims that "the theological notion of original sin didn’t arise until several centuries after Jesus supposedly lived ...." Coyne's years of studying theology didn't acquaint him with Romans or I Corinthians, apparently.

Divine Impassibility: A Pervasive Christian Doctrine

Coyne has recently been adding more weird claims about theology. In a post entitled "An Eastern Orthodox priest says I know nothing of God," Coyne seems determined to demonstrate that, in fact, he knows nothing of God.

The doctrine that God lacks emotions and is unaltered by the world is called "Divine Impassibility." Impassibility is one of the major attributes Christians believe God has.

The doctrine of Impassibility is grounded in the Scriptures and was formulated at least as early as the Second Century AD. Those who did not believe in it were deemed heretics. Patripassionism, a school that taught that God the Father suffers, was condemned in the Second Century AD.

The doctrine of Divine Impassibility is pervasive in Christian theology: it was held by every major theologian before the modern period and affirmed in official church proceedings such as the Nicene Council.

Surprised by Divine Impassibility

Given Coyne's claims to have spent "years" studying theology, one would think he would be familiar with the doctrine. But Coyne states that he has never heard anyone say that the Christian God does not have emotions. In responding to an Orthodox priest who mentions impassibility, Coyne says:
"In other words, God completely lacks emotion, nor is He altered by the world. Well, Fr. Kimel, that’s a new one to me. You’ve managed to find one theologian who says that."
Coyne apparently thinks few Christian theologians hold God to be impassible. But, of course, every major patristic and medieval theologian held this view. Here are some theologians, just off the top of my head, who believe God is impassible:
  • Augustine
  • Thomas Aquinas
  • Martin Luther
  • John Calvin
  • Origen
  • Ignatius
  • Justin Martyr
  • Cyprian
  • Tertullian
  • Theodoret
  • Gregory of Nyssa
  • Basil the Great
  • Gregory Thaumaturgus
  • Eusebius
  • Anselm
  • Bonaventure
  • Duns Scotus
  • Rufinus
  • Ignatius
  • Irenaeus

The notion that God is without emotion is a central aspect of theism, Christian or otherwise. You can find the notion of divine impassibility in Plato, Aristotle, and Plotinus.

This alone would suffice to show that Coyne never spent "years" studying theology. Even had Coyne not shown the basics of Christian theology to be news to him in his previous posts, this would be enough.

A New Trend in the Sciences: Making Things Up

So let's recap. Jerry Coyne claims he has spent years reading theology. Then Coyne goes on to say that he's never heard anyone say that God is impassible. But divine impassibility is held by every major orthodox theologian up to the eighteenth century. It's rejected as a heresy at least as far back as the second century!

Coyne is just making things up. This, it turns out, is the new trend among scientists. Marc Hauser, a famous evolutionary biologist at Harvard, was discovered to have fabricated research data. Hauser's career, incidentally, was largely focused on claiming primates had many human-like cognitive functions.

Another recent case, also at Harvard and also involving a biologist, involved an influential paper in stem-cell research written by Haruko Obokata.

I've wondered in the past how Coyne, as a trained biologist, could have total disregard for the data and for intellectual rigor when it comes to matters of religion. Perhaps, though, it is the case that his sloppy reasoning, refusal to revise his views in light of contrary evidence, and his fabrications concerning his past work are actually bad habits that come from certain sectors of the sciences.

A few years' training in the methods of theology might do wonders for the quality of Coyne's thinking.