Evolution may favor religious diversity, but the tail does not wag the fish.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Flawed Methodology at the Genesis

Parents Seek to Block Teaching of 'Intelligent Design' (WPOST)
"An expected month-long trial opened Monday in federal court in Harrisburg, as 11 parents from Dover township seek to block their school board's demand that biology teachers read a four-paragraph statement to students casting doubt on Darwin's theory of evolution."
I must confess that the original name for this blog was in response to this creeping intellectual malaise around creationism-intelligent design vs. evolution(ism) and darwin(ism). There were several aspects that bothered me and began to irritate me further by the continued handling and shaping of this issue in the media reporting process.

Generally, the writing usually devolves into a simplistic dualism between religion and science. Scientists working in a secular context seeking objectivity are portrayed as godless. People of faith wanting their religious fervor and relationship to God to be respected appear anti-science, anti-modern, or mystically on the fringe of society.

This Washington Post piece goes well with this NYT piece, which appeared on the same day. NYT took the approach of beginning and ending their piece through the POV of Dover, PA resident, Sheree Hied, described as "a mother of five who believes that God created the earth and its creatures [who] was grateful when her school board here voted last year to require high school biology classes to hear about 'alternatives' to evolution, including the theory known as intelligent design." A photo of Ms. Hied and her family praying at the table also accompanies the article.

Both NYT and WPOST present the opposing sides. Those against intelligent design want to debunk it as a viable scientific alternative, but more importantly want to prevent religion from entiring the public school curriculum. The foil to being potrayed as godless. Those in favor of intelligent design want to argue that this is simply an exercise of protected free speech.

There are two things that are irksome. First, as previously mentioned, the dichotomy of science and religion is obviously simplistic and false. Many religious people do pursue lives of scientific research and practice. There is no necessary contradiction between faith and reason. In fact, making a reasonable account of the hope within us, is part of what people of faith ought to do. Second, I worry that what is missing in this process is the cultural understanding that members of our modern society, religious and not, have come to acknowledge.

The argument for free speech on behalf of intelligent design supporters here is only half-baked. It implies that godless scientists are also against consitutional rights. But what has failed to be addressed here is that the manner in which scientific theories gain acceptance is through proper peer research and review, not by a school board voting for a PSA/infomercial to promote a book.
The point of the scientific process isn't to prove the role for God in the world any more than Darwin's theory has replaced our ongoing religious lives. My humble suggestion for those who truly see and experience how meaningful values exist in their lives, as they seem to do around this particular issue, is not to simply take sides, but to earnestly understand the discipline and limits of science, and, to use my own Catholic language, to understand our relationship with God and God at work in the world sacramentally.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Bring it On!

End of the Bush Era- [Washington Post]

"The Bush Era is over. The sooner politicians in both parties realize that, the better for them -- and the country."
E.J. Dionne, Jr. draws the strikingly obvious contrast of the would-be presidential leader in Post 9-11 NYC, who rose atop the rubbish heap with a bullhorn proclaiming he could hear the shouts around him and that he would ably respond to them, and the could-it-really-be Mr. Bush, who seemed out of touch when his summer vacation was cut suddenly short by hurricane Katrina.

Mr. Bush will speak to the nation later today from the devastated Gulf region, which he has visited a number of times since the hurricane overwhelmed state and local efforts and federal agencies drew "blistering" criticism for their slow response.

Mr. Bush even took the uncharacteristic, though guarded stance of accepting responsibility for this lack of response earlier this week. But, it remains to be seen what new vision or bold leadership might emerge from a president beset with these obstacles.

The earlier president rallied world response to a war on terror that boldly brought the fight to the enemy in Afghanistan only to get distracted and discredited with the invasion of Iraq on faulty intelligence. Most expect this president to announce a reconstruction aid package post-Katrina that will be the largest ever implemented on American soil. Note that this amount parallels the overwhelming amount already reached in wartime expenses in Iraq.

While there are those who are familiar with the "starve the beast" approach to goverment, there are also those who think about fiscal responsibility. While we must wait to hear what Mr. Bush has to say, the question remains, will we really believe what we hear?

Sunday, September 11, 2005

We begin bombing in five minutes...

Independent Online Edition:
"The Pentagon has drawn up a new strategy, built on the 2002 Bush doctrine of pre-emptive military strikes, that would allow the United States to make first use of nuclear weapons to thwart an attack using weapons of mass destruction against the country."

Is anybody from SNAFU Control wondering why this strategy wasn't available prior to invading Iraq? We could have had the clear and decisive victory we needed. Right?

Clearly, it appears that the ideologues who back such "robust" nuclear options as these have an overdeveloped sense of who lives and who dies--and who gets to make that choice.

Critics, take the stance that further nuclear weapons development would be hypocrital of the U.S. in regards to non-proliferation. But a much simpler argument would be asking what is the critical difference between WMDs and nuclear fall-out meant to eradicate that threat?

This reminds me of the laundry detergent commercial for NEW ERA whose slogan was "Protein gets out protein." And my sister laughably replied, "Then why can't mustard get out ketchup?"

Saturday, September 03, 2005

America's Perfect Storm

I look at this Labor Day Weekend to be an all together different kind of holiday. It isn't the last BBQ before calling it quits on summer. It isn't time to hit the road, pay the price at the pump, and sit in traffic congestion on that last trip to the beach or the mountains. It isn't time to shop and save, go to that weekend sale to stock up for the upcoming season of holidays or school. Instead, for me, it is time to take stock of assets and liabilities, setting goals and accountabilities on progress. And because of Katrina, I can't help but look back at the week that was. For those catching up on their last minute summer reading, the links and quotes below might just be your quick-study:

When Government Is 'Good' (Washington Post)
"I'm sorry to raise this, but can it make any sense that one of the early issues the U.S. Senate is scheduled to confront this month is the repeal of the estate tax on large fortunes when we haven't even calculated the costs of Katrina? And why do we keep evading a national debate over who is bearing the burdens of a war that has dragged on far longer than its architects promised?"
Two from theage.com:

America stripped bare
The hurricane had no target, but in the aftermath it was clear that the victims — who are suffering a horrifying lack of rescue and care — were mostly black and mostly poor, unable to flee the city before the storm because they had no means.
Katrina sweeps away an American dream
It is said there was one America before September 11, 2001, and a different one after it. Perhaps now there will be talk of America before and after Katrina. When President Bush told "Good Morning America" on Thursday morning that nobody could have "anticipated" the breach of the New Orleans levees, it pointed to not only a remote leader in denial, but a whole political class.
And one from the BBC:
The uneasy paradox which so many live with in this country - of being first-and-foremost rugged individuals, out to plunder what they can and paying as little tax as they can get away with, while at the same time believing that America is a robust, model society - has reached a crisis point this week.

Friday, September 02, 2005

The Empire's New Clothes

Is Bush to Blame for New Orleans Flooding?
He did slash funding for levee projects. But the Army Corps of Engineers says Katrina was just too strong.
I am inclined to believe the non-partisan FactCheck.org article which acknowledges that Mr. Bush did cut funding for levee projects in New Orleans. It also claims that had the project been fully funded, it would not have been completed until 2015 and it would only have been designed to withstand a category 3 hurricane. This bolsters the Army Corp of Engineers claim that Katrina, a category 4 hurricane, was simply more powerful than anticipated.

However, it is also true that from the point of view of emergency preparedness, we should have seen this coming. Paul Krugman notes in NYT (also cited by FactCheck.Org) that the 9/11 FEMA listed the three most likely catastrophic disasters in the U.S. to be “a terrorist attack on New York, a major earthquake in San Francisco and a hurricane strike on New Orleans.”

Hindsight is 20/20. But simply saying that this is an unprecedented catastrophe in order to lower the expectations of our response is “unacceptable.” But this probably isn't what Mr. Bush meant when he spoke to reporters before boarding a helicopter to travel to the affected areas in the Gulf. It doesn't explain why the disaster response, 5 days afterwards, is still dealing with lawlessness, rape, and gang violence, a lack of coordinated command and control on the ground, and a desparate exodus from a city originally 80% submerged in 20 feet of water. But it does explain Mr. Bush's apparent reversal from an eagerness to arrive on the scene in Mobile AL, to "not looking forward to the trip" to New Orleans.

Krugman claims that this is an administration that has done things on the cheap like waging war but not properly arming its troops, or erecting new governmental agencies and processes, but not following through on funding its projects. Meanwhile, in an unprecedented move, the U.S. has accepted offers of international aid and support. The world stands aghast at the ill preparedness of this first world nation which has come apart at the seams. In Krugman’s words, “So America, once famous for its can-do attitude, now has a can't-do government that makes excuses instead of doing its job. And while it makes those excuses, Americans are dying.”

Thursday, September 01, 2005

New Orleans and the Tsunami that Stayed

The Storm After the Storm [New York Times]

Amid all the stories that recur with every disaster - tales of sudden death and miraculous survival, the displacement and the disease - there is also the testing.

Civic arrangements work or they fail. Leaders are found worthy or wanting. What's happening in New Orleans and Mississippi today is a human tragedy. But take a close look at the people you see wandering, devastated, around New Orleans: they're predominantly black and poor. The political disturbances are still to come.

David Brooks’s Op-Ed takes a look back at storms-of-the-century gone by, noting that the devastation wrought also served to expose underlying structural inequalities in race and class. The shock at the devastation gives way to outrage and recrimination.

A separate NYT Editorial "Waiting for a Leader," attempts to place the president’s response in context, noting that for the most part, Mr. Bush had weathered the dog-days of August attempting to capitalize on WWII Anniversaries to rally patriotic support for his flagging military operations in Iraq. True, Mr. Bush has more than once shown firm resolve amidst a maelstrom, but in a strange way, this time may be a different case of one's chickens coming home to roost. After all, “since this administration won't acknowledge that global warming exists, the chances of leadership seem minimal.”

Some are wondering too where the global support is for the U.S. But should we be so surprised that our “Go it Alone” persona makes it hard to offer us support and our indisputable economic domination makes it hard to offer us aid? Keep in mind that U.S. trade sanctions levied on those same countries affected by the Dec. '04 tsunami more than tripled the aid we gave to the victims. Our attempts to invoke homeland security measures may complicate the fly-zone and stifle inbound traffic of foreign aid (as Canadian efforts to help us early on learned). And though Pat Robertson's zealous gaffe for the Christian Right may want to see the demise of Chavez, the government of Venezuela, the 5th top exporter of oil, offered monetary and fuel support to the U.S., its #1 customer.