Sunday, December 31, 2006


The lawsuit centered on the Mt. Soledad cross will complete its 18th year in May without its initial litigant, Philip Paulson, who passed away in 2006. A great deal of time and passion has been expended on that suit (and on others) to make sure that religious expression is quarantined in a way that applies to no other set of ideas.

The pretext for this policy is recent, dating from around 1970. According to the “living document” school of constitutional interpretation, “establish­ment of religion” no longer means what it clearly meant in 1791—i.e. a government funded institution like the Church of England. Instead, it means any “excessive entanglement” of government with things religious.

“Excessive” entanglement was later revised to mean any government-affiliated religious expression whatsoever, including invocations at high school graduations, Christmas nativity scenes, and, according to some 9th Circuit judges, the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. Indeed, our black-robed betters have decreed that the only religious trappings of our heritage that are “constitutionally” permitted are those with no religious significance. That is, as long as no one takes “In God We Trust” seriously, it can remain on our currency.

I doubt that this fingers-crossed jurisprudence is more than a way station to a religionless public square where the only exceptions are existing monuments that bear witness to a time when the Constitution wasn’t wax in the hands of secular sculptors.

It’s ironic that advocates of church-state separation (more accurately, religion-state separation) appeal regularly to Thomas Jefferson’s 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptists—as if that missive were scripture. Jefferson, after all, was a vocal opponent of what is today called “judicial activism.” And our third president issued frequent warnings about the Constitution becoming a mere scrap of paper subject to legal deconstruction.

Moreover, Jefferson was a strong advocate of limited government who would be appalled at the size and scope of the public sector today. Nowadays, government at all levels affects almost every segment of life—directly controlling about 35% of the nation’s GDP and indirectly leveraging (via loan and other programs) another chunk of our culture.

Were governments the size they were at the start of the 20th century, the religious cleansing of the public square would have “only” a symbolic impact. But since government, in accord with socialist inclinations, insinuates itself into vast areas of public life, the reinterpretation of the first amendment has had far-reaching consequences—functioning like a secular sieve to transform the dollars of God-fearing taxpayers into greenbacks that promote ever-expanding “god-free” zones. In these areas, ideas that presuppose a godless universe are regarded as “neutral” expressions of free speech not subject to the special restrictions put on religion.

Even an unorthodox theist like Jefferson would find such judicial-sponsored gag rules more odious than the reasonable reflection of religious belief in a government designed to represent those same individuals. At present, a largely religious nation must pay tribute to the “gods” of secularism while courts declare that this shell game is demanded by a “living” Constitution.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


Who is Professor Ron Karenga? Karenga is the inventor of Kwanzaa—the tradition begun in 1966 that is now given respectful deference by educators and P.C. mediacrats. Part of the puffing up of Kwanzaa involves strict inattention to the biography of its creator—a man who not only boasts two Ph.D.s (one from the former U. S. International University) but who also spent four years in prison.

Details of alleged criminal acts are available under Karenga’s name in David Horowitz’s alphabetically arranged book, The Professors. Here’s a sample: “The victims Deborah Jones and Gail Davis were whipped with an electrical cord and beaten with a karate baton after being ordered to remove their clothing.” Other allegations, apparently convincing to jurors, involved putting a hot soldering iron in Davis’ mouth, tightening a vise on one of Jones’ toes, and holding the two women hostage at gunpoint.

The professor and his two “United Slaves” cohorts (an organization also founded by Karenga in the 60s) were convicted of felonious assault and false imprisonment. Karenga was sentenced to prison in September of 1971, and released in 1975. Shortly thereafter Karenga secured a faculty position at San Diego State University. (Horowitz notes, “Apparently a nationwide search for applicants was unable to turn up a better candidate.”)

In 1977, now at Cal State Long Beach, Karenga explained that Kwanzaa serves as an alternative to Christian, Jewish, and Muslim holiday traditions. He also wrote extensively about its seven principles: unity (umoja), collective responsibility (ujima), cooperative economics (ujamaa), purposeful development of one’s people (nia), group autonomy (kujichagulia), communal creativity (kuumba), and faith in one’s people, parents, and teachers (imani). (Ann Coulter rudely noted that these seven principles are the same collectivist beliefs touted by the Symbionese Liberation Army—the 70s terrorist group that kidnapped Patty Hearst.)

Karenga has kept out of legal trouble since 1975. Indeed, in 1989 he became head of the Black Studies Department at Cal State Long Beach, making good on the Swahili title "Maulana" (Master Teacher) that he bestowed upon himself in the 60s. (Only in America’s university system can one go from prison to department head in less than fifteen years.) Nowadays, Karenga’s comments in support of Cuban Internationalism and against the “state terrorism” and “mass murder” perpetrated by “the U. S. and its allies” make him a team player in the academy.

With the mainstreaming of Kwanzaa, Karenga has toned down the separatist, anti-religious rhetoric that he employed when touting the “sevenfold path of blackness”—“think black, talk black, act black, create black, buy black, vote black, and live black.” Indeed, Karenga now denies that Kwanzaa was created “to give a Black alternative to the existing holiday”—though those very words appear in his earlier writings.

What is clear is that Kwanzaa didn’t originate in any authentic African tradition or in ideas that transcend racial solidarity—ideas like “Peace on earth. Good will toward men.”

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Prof. Rodney Stark on Evolution and the Origin of Species

Here's an article from The American Enterprise, September, 2004, that deals with the issues adumbrated in my review of Dawkins' book. An addendum by Freeman Dyson (in the TAE article) provides an intellectual dessert.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


“Sublimely non-tendentious,” that’s the phrase I’ve always attributed to Alfred North Whitehead—a man who began his career as a Cambridge mathematician collaborating with Bertrand Russell and ended that career as a Harvard philosopher and metaphysician. Two things you can count on when reading Whitehead. First, he will look at the big picture. Second, he will generously give to all historical players the credit due to them. I make these points to contrast Whitehead’s modus operandi with the scattershot pettiness that pervades Richard Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion.

Here’s a sample taken from Whitehead’s Science and the Modern World—a stunningly insightful text based on the Lowell Lectures of 1925: “The Reformation and the scientific movement were two aspects of the [historical] revolt which was the dominant intellectual movement of the later Renaissance. The appeal to the origins of Christianity, and Francis Bacon’s appeal to efficient causes as against final causes, were two sides of one movement of thought.”

And again: “I do not think…that I have even yet brought out the greatest contribution of medievalism to the formation of the scientific movement. I mean the inexpugnable belief that every detailed occurrence can be correlated with its antecedents in a perfectly definite manner, exemplifying general principles. Without this belief the incredible labours of scientists would be without hope…. My explanation is that the faith in the possibility of science, generated antecedently to the development of modern scientific theory, is an unconscious derivation from medieval theology.”

To simplify, both the Reformation and modern science arose out of a “movement of thought” that, in the case of science, rebelled against final causes. Yet, ironically, the confidence that modern science displays in its intellectual project rests upon an unconscious faith in the universe’s detailed rationality that was derived from medieval theology.

Don’t look for anything like this kind of subtle analysis in The God Delusion. What you’ll find, instead, is page after sarcastic page of attacks against any foe Dawkins considers an easy target: Pat Robertson, Pastor Ted Haggard, Ann Coulter, a small fundamentalist school in Northeast England (to which 7 of Dawkins’ 374 pages are devoted), Pastor Fred “God Hates Fags” Phelps, Dr. James Dobson, and, of course, G. W. Bush—who supposedly invaded Iraq because he was told to do so by God. Even poor Carl Jung is made into a kook by Dawkins for believing “that particular books on his shelf spontaneously exploded.” (I’ve read a number of works written by Freud’s unfaithful protégé and have yet to encounter the concept of spontaneous book combustion. Dawkins, however, as with the comment about President Bush and Iraq, doesn’t bother to provide references for these claims.)

When it comes to magnanimity, here’s a sample of the author’s generosity: “To be fair, much of the Bible is not systematically evil but just plain weird.” This comment shows the contempt Dawkins consistently displays for ideas that don’t conform to his own—a bio-creed that includes the following affirmations: life emerged on earth due to random interactions of material elements; life evolved from its primitive forms to its current complexity because of natural selection; no god is needed to make sense of these (or any other) phenomena.

In truth, Dawkins’ entire book is an exercise in contempt—summarily dismissing Thomas Aquinas’ theological arguments and devoting less than 100 breezy pages to the whole issue of God’s existence. The rest of Dawkins’ book discusses—with the jaundiced eye of an H. L. Mencken in biological drag—how religious beliefs are given undue social deference, why Einstein’s references to God aren’t religious, why eastern religions aren’t religions, why religion developed (socio-biologically), how the Bible is a jumble of historical trash, how religion promotes intolerance and undermines science, how Hitler may have been Catholic, why Stalin’s atheism doesn’t matter, why society doesn’t need religion to be moral, why Jefferson was probably an atheist (the non-mentioned God-statements on the Jefferson Memorial to the contrary notwithstanding), why studying religion to understand literary references is ok, and why parents indoctrinating their children with religious beliefs should be viewed as child abuse. (The depth of Dawkins’ political thought is shown by his failure to ponder for one second the implica­tions of a government that can tell parents what beliefs they can and cannot transmit to their offspring.)

Far from being a serious philosophical book, this ill-edited and garrulous diatribe contains just about anything that crosses the author’s mind—including numerous quotes from that popular author, atheist, and graduate student, Sam Harris. What one won’t find in The God Delusion is serious curiosity about the essential nature of the universe. The billions upon billions of stars and galaxies that Carl Sagan invoked with semi-mystical awe, become, for Dawkins, a mere premise for his theoretical conceit that random interactions could have produced the phenomenon of life on earth. (With so many planets, it had to have happened somewhere!) Never mind the fact that scientists endowed with that mysterious chemical characteristic known as consciousness can’t, with purposeful intent, replicate that vital accident. And never mind that scientists like DNA-theorist Francis Crick were so baffled by the complexity of early life forms that they toyed with a panspermia hypothesis according to which space aliens brought life-seeds to earth. And finally, never mind the embarrassing fossil-record confession by the late Harvard biologist, Stephen Jay Gould, that “most species exhibit no directional change during their tenure on earth” and that in any local area, “a species does not arise gradually by the steady transformation of its ancestors; it appears all at once and ‘fully formed.’”

Dawkins’ treatment of that mathematical genius and 17th century philosopher, Blaise Pascal, is typical of his general approach. Dawkins seizes on Pascal’s weakest argument, the wager, and ridicules its obvious flaws. Ignored are the well-known passages that ground Pascal’s (oft-wavering) faith in the inadequacy of the human mind to deal with the enormity of the universe—both the infinitely large and the infinitely small. In Pascal’s words, “The whole visible world is only an imperceptible atom in the ample bosom of nature. No idea approaches it. We may enlarge our conceptions beyond all imaginable space; we only produce atoms in comparison with the reality of things. It is an infinite sphere, the center of which is everywhere, the circumference nowhere. In short, it is the greatest sensible mark of the almighty power of God that imagination loses itself in that thought.”

Had Dawkins bothered to cite this assertion, he would doubtless have countered it with replies that recur throughout his book. First, the awe that Pascal discusses has nothing to do with religion. Rather, it’s the kind of atheistic wonder that’s typical in scientists like Einstein. Second, this “God of the gaps” argument simply fills in the blanks of our ignorance with a destructive, curiosity-impeding concept. Third—and this is Dawkins’ favorite argument—the complexity of a God who created the world requires explanation. Put simply: Who made God?

Worshipful humility in the face of mind-boggling (possibly parallel) universes is an emotion foreign to Dawkins—though the academic pugilist does admit to feeling very lucky. As for the “Who made God?” argument, this retort (convincing to any skeptical freshman who hasn’t read Aristotle or Kant) ignores the fact that philosophical explanations, as Wittgenstein and others have noted, have to end somewhere. The real question is whether one’s explanation terminates with a meaningless cosmos or with a being who provides a reason for things. Dawkins, without further ado, assumes that the former alternative is the only rational choice. In this way he gives tacit expression to the point of view that Whitehead criticized some 80 years ago:

“There persists…throughout the whole [modern] period the fixed scientific cosmology which presupposes the ultimate fact of an irreducible brute matter, or material, spread throughout space in a flux of configurations. It itself, such a material is senseless, valueless, purposeless. It just does what it does do, following a fixed routine imposed by external relations which do not spring from the nature of its being. It is this assumption that I call ‘scientific materialism.’ Also, it is an assumption which I shall challenge as being entirely unsuited to the scientific situation at which we have now arrived.”

Whitehead continues, displaying the non-tendentiousness to which I previously referred, “It [scientific materialism] is not wrong, if properly construed. If we confine ourselves to certain types of facts, abstracted from the complete circumstances in which they occur, the materialistic assumption expresses these facts to perfection. But when we pass beyond the abstraction, either by more subtle employment of our senses, or by the request for meanings and for coherence of thoughts, the scheme breaks down at once.”

In other words, once we look for a rational ground for complex development, self-consciousness, aesthetics, morality, and the universe itself, Dawkins’ brute facts (which in the world of quantum physics are neither brutish nor facts) look extremely lame. This lameness, I should add, comports nicely with the pleasure-based ethical system to which Dawkins appeals with no particular rigor.

Overall, Dawkins’ “philosophy” amounts to little more than this unintentionally humorous observation by Dr. Edward Tryon that was quoted in a Time-Life book on cosmology, “Our universe is simply one of those things that happens from time to time.” That’s reason according to Dawkins—a man whose cultural and philosophical observations are predictably au courant, consistently dogmatic, and largely unreflective. He is the un-Whitehead, a man who will never (barring divine intervention) appreciate this sublime comment by my philosophical mentor: “In the study of ideas, it is necessary to remember that insistence on hard-headed clarity issues from sentimental feeling, as it were a mist, cloaking the perplexities of fact. Insistence on clarity at all costs is based on sheer superstition as to the mode in which human intelligence functions. Our reasonings grasp at straws for premises and float on gossamers for deductions.”