On the sixtieth anniversary of the hanging of Adolf Eichmann 1

This essay is from the New English Review, May, 2022.

June 1, 2022, will be the 60th anniversary of the execution of Adolf Eichmann.

He was the arch administrator of Hitler’s “final solution of the Jewish problem” by systematic murder. The plan was conceived by Heinrich Himmler, Reichsführer of the SS and Hitler’s second-in command. Between 1942 and 1945—the last three years of the Second World War—SS-Obersturmbannführer Eichmann carried it out. He organized the killing of approximately six million Jews of all ages, most of them by poison gas.

After the Third Reich was defeated in 1945 and Hitler and Himmler had committed suicide, Eichmann sought refuge from justice in South America under the name Ricardo Klement. Some twelve years after the establishment in 1948 of the independent Jewish state of Israel, the Israeli secret service traced Eichmann to Argentina, captured him, smuggled him out of the country and brought him to Jerusalem. There he was humanely imprisoned, politely interrogated, tried by a legally constituted tribunal, judged, and condemned.

The proceedings were conducted with scrupulous regard to the law and all the safeguards it provided: due process, evidence, cross examination of witnesses, argument for the defense. He was found guilty of multiple crimes against the Jewish People, of crimes against humanity, and of war crimes; and he was acquitted on certain parts of the indictment where proof was considered inadequate. He was sentenced to death.

Granted permission to appeal, he had his death sentence confirmed by the higher court. The appeal judges declared:

“In deciding to confirm both the verdict and the sentence passed on Adolf Eichmann, we know only too well how utterly inadequate is the death sentence when we consider the millions of deaths for which he was responsible. Even as there is no word in human speech to describe his deeds, so there is no punishment in human law to match his guilt.”

And on June 1,1962, a few minutes after midnight, he was hanged.

Hannah Arendt, the German-Jewish-American philosopher, was sent by the chic New Yorker magazine to report on Eichmann’s trial. She considered the proceedings to be flawed. She questioned whether the Israeli court had jurisdiction to try the crimes of which Eichmann stood accused. She argued that the Nazi policy of discrimination against the Jews was a “national issue”, so persons accused of implementing it should be tried in a German court. Deportations, however, affect other countries, therefore those accused of organizing them should be brought before an international court. So should those accused of genocide because it is “a crime against humanity”. The specific human genus marked down for total extermination in this case was the Jewish people, but the crime was nevertheless, in her view, against all humankind, so the obligation fell upon the world, not the Jewish state, to call its perpetrators to account. The fact that the world had shown little interest in tracking down Nazi fugitives was no discouragement to her optimism that it would see justice done.

She was not alone in having doubts on the question of jurisdiction. Legal opinion had been divided over the legitimacy of the court which had tried Nazi leaders at Nuremberg. Argument over type of tribunal, applicable law, and definition of Eichmann’s crimes were necessary, and the Jerusalem court itself examined such questions and gave reasoned answers to them. Fortunately, the judges had a more realistic understanding than Arendt of how the murder of Jews was estimated by the world at large, so they kept him well secured in their own jurisdiction.

Arendt’s criticism was not limited to those conscientiously debated issues. She also objected to the terms of the judgment. Although she accepted that the “guilty” verdict was just, and even agreed that Eichmann deserved the sentence of death (unlike some other liberal critics – such as the British publisher Victor Gollancz, who recommended that he be acquitted with the words, “Go, and sin no more”), she caviled at the judges’ reasons for their verdict. They should, she thought, have “dared to address their defendant” in these terms:

“Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that it was nothing more than misfortune [Eichmann’s defense being chiefly that he too was a victim of the Nazi regime, forced to obey immoral orders] that made you a willing instrument in the organization of mass murder; there still remains the fact that you have carried out, and therefore actively supported, a policy of mass murder. For politics is not like the nursery; in politics obedience and support are the same. And just as you supported and carried out a policy of not wanting to share the earth with the Jewish people and the people of a number of other nations—as though you and your superiors had any right to determine who should and who should not inhabit the world—we find that no one, that is, no member of the human race, can be expected to want to share the earth with you. This is the reason, and the only reason, you must hang.”

In other words, what Arendt thought Eichmann the mass murderer was most guilty of; what she identified as his chief and most appalling offense; what she thought his judges should be hardest on; what alone would justify his being put to death, was—hubris.

This coolly detached opinion of hers is not, however, the point to which she most urgently directed her readers’ attention. The most important lesson she drew is encapsulated in her famous generalization, a phrase on the nature of evil. It is displayed in the title of her book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, and the book ends (but for an Epilogue and Postscript) with a re-statement of it. It is her firm conclusion.

“Adolf Eichmann went to the gallows with great dignity. He had asked for a bottle of red wine and had drunk half of it. He refused the help of the Protestant minister …  who offered to read the Bible with him … He walked the fifty yards from his cell to the execution chamber calm and erect, with his hands bound behind him. When the guards tied his ankles and knees, he asked them to loosen the bonds so that he could stand straight. ‘I don’t need that,’ he said when the black hood was offered him.  He was in complete command of himself, nay, he was more: he was completely himself.  Nothing could have demonstrated this more convincingly than the grotesque silliness of his last words. He began by stating emphatically that he was a Gottgläubige [a God believer], to express in common Nazi fashion that he was no Christian and did not believe in life after death. [Yet] he then proceeded: ‘After a short while, gentlemen, we shall all meet again. Such is the fate of all men. Long live Germany, long live Argentina, long live Austria. I shall not forget them.’ In the face of death, he had found the cliché used in funeral oratory. Under the gallows, his memory played him the last trick; he was ‘elated’ and he forgot that this was his own funeral. It was as though in those last minutes he was summing up the lessons that this long course in human wickedness had taught us—the lesson of the fearsome, word-and-thought-defying banality of evil.” [All italics are the author’s]

For Hannah Arendt, the story required a fascinating demon, not a bespectacled clerk. Even when he stood under the noose, she laments, when history needed him to speak pathetic or terrifying words of pride or remorse, the best he could come up with were embarrassingly trivial funeral clichés. He was a dull person; not exactly stupid in her assessment, but not a thinking man. He was a mere instrument of evil, but with his final banal remarks he summed up a lesson that evil itself was banal.

Hannah Arendt was wrong about what Eichmann had been. He had not been a lowly bureaucrat unthinkingly carrying out orders; not “just a small cog in Adolf Hitler’s extermination machine” as he claimed, but a zealous, dedicated, ideological, leading Nazi. He had an entire bureau under him, a department of his own in the Reich Security Head Office.

She apparently never found this out. Between 1973 and 1975, she delivered a series of lectures on how philosophers from ancient Greece to modern Germany have dealt with the subjects of thinking and willing. They were collected—and published after her death—in two volumes under the title The Life of the Mind. In her introduction, she refers to her report on the Eichmann trial and changes what she had meant by “the banality of evil”: not that evil was banal (which is clearly what she wrote), but only that this particular evil-doer was banal. “I was struck by a manifest shallowness [in him] … The deeds were monstrous, but the doer … was quite ordinary, commonplace, and neither demonic nor monstrous.” And she added: “Behind that phrase, I held no thesis or doctrine … although I was dimly aware of the fact that it went counter to our tradition of thought—literary, theological, or philosophic—about the phenomenon of evil.”

“Dimly aware”? Of “our” tradition of thought? She was perfectly aware that it went counter to her tradition of thought. She had studied philosophy at Marburg under Martin Heidegger—with whom she had a love-affair—and at Heidelberg under Karl Jaspers. In the introduction to The Life of the Mind she clearly states: “Evil, we have learned, is something demonic; its incarnation is …  the fallen angel … that superbia of which only the best are capable.”

That is as far as she goes in dealing with the aggrandizement of evil in “our tradition of thought”. She does not touch on it again in the chapters that follow.

Who are the “we” who learned that evil is something “of which only the best are capable”? The answer is: students of German philosophy. For over a hundred years, the most esteemed German philosophers—and artists—had been romanticizing evil. More and worse, they urged its practice. They despised morality. Most influentially, Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) denigrated it; Richard Wagner (1813-1883) considered it a corrupting imposition on the pure, brave, superior, heroic German character, a taint for which the Jews, through Christianity, were to blame; and Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), hated it with raging passion. And with raging passion he praised evil, praised the powerful who do evil on a vast scale. To him evil was “beautiful”, a source of intoxicating joy. He tops the list of revered German sages who romanticized evil, but Arendt does not so much as mention this, though she writes about him at length in The Life of the Mind.

It wasn’t as if Nietzsche did not know what evil was. He knew it was suffering, physical torment, mental anguish. He was a sick man, subject to acute pain and nausea, but in the worst throes of his suffering he would cry out for more of it, because to endure and rise above suffering was a means to attain genius—the creative genius of the Superman.

In Thus Spake Zarathustra, through the persona of Zarathustra (who bears no resemblance to the historical figure), he urges those who would be “noble” to be “ruthless”. In Beyond Good and Evil he eagerly anticipates a new caste of supermen who will rule over Europe. Under their enlightened rule, slavery will be necessary. In The Joyous Science he declares that these heroes will be able to commit terrible deeds of cruelty, torture, and mass murder, and yet remain blithe and light-hearted. “All those who create are hard … the noblest are totally hard.” They will be the glory of the human race, acting out of instinct, not thought. Thinking, reason, morality destroy creative inspiration and are inimical to life. “Life itself, its eternal fruitfulness and return, necessitates torment, destruction, the will to annihilate.”

The Nazis took the philosophy of Nietzsche as an instruction textbook, and Heinrich Himmler echoed him when he said in his infamous 1943 speech to SS officers explaining how just was the genocide of the Jews:

“Most of you will know what it means when 100 bodies lie together, when 500 are there or when there are 1000. And to have seen this through and—with the exception of human weakness—to have remained decent, has made us hard and is a page of glory never mentioned and never to be mentioned.”

Martin Heidegger—teacher, mentor, lover of Hannah Arendt, and to her mind a profound thinker—was a devout Nazi. He declared emphatically that he was not concerned with ethics. What he was greatly concerned with was the German nation, which must, he said in his rectorial address at the University of Freiburg in 1933, “preserve at the deepest level those forces that are rooted in the earth and its own blood”. The essence of the race, he said, was embodied in Adolf Hitler. “The Führer himself and he alone is the German reality, present and future, and its law.” Hitler, he said, would “heal” the nation. Only when, contrary to this prediction, the Führer led Germany to defeat and shame, did Martin Heidegger discern something he could call evil meaning it was bad. He wrote in a Letter on Humanism two years after the ending of the Second World War, when the atrocity of the Holocaust was known throughout the world: “Perhaps the distinguishing feature of the present age lies in the fact that wholeness as a dimension of experience is closed to us. Perhaps this is the only evil.”

 

Jillian Becker   May 22, 2022

About our atheism and conservatism 2

We are atheists and we are conservatives.

We are often accused of holding contradictory opinions on the grounds that conservatism in the West must involve the Christian faith, but that is not true.

Conservatism involves the principles of individual freedom, the rule of law, small government, patriotism, strong defense. It is dependent on the existence of the nation-state. It reveres time-tested tradition, adheres to custom and preserves historical gains while being always open to improvement. Though it actively encourages progress and innovation, it does not believe in the possibility of political or individual perfection. It does not forbid individual choice as to which inherited tradition you intellectually accept or reject. Nothing about it requires a belief in the supernatural. You can be a conservative without being a Christian.

We are also accused of being illogical in that atheism requires so thoroughgoing a skepticism, so radical a re-examination of settled principles and long accepted ideas, that conservatism, with its respect for custom and convention, must logically be insupportable. But to hold that position is to claim that nothing established qualifies as acceptable – simply because it is established. It is a position that reason rejects.

No political views, no moral principles, no actions are logically entailed by atheism.

Our skeptical reasoning – but obviously not others’ – excludes belief in any irrational doctrine, creed, or ideology. We class Communism, racism, climate alarmism as secular religious beliefs because they are irrational and doctrinaire; they proselytize, they punish heresy, they claim a monopoly on “truth”. For that, in addition to other critical objections, we reject them.

Not even humanism results logically from atheism. You can reject gods without having to love human beings for no better reason than that they are human. But while there is no morality that logically belongs to atheism, atheists are not logically amoral. We think it a sound principle not to do harm. We understand that beyond infancy no one can achieve so impossibly high an aim, but it is good to try.

Posted under Philosophy by Jillian Becker on Tuesday, March 8, 2022

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The sickness unto death 3

The fatal sickness, a pandemic in this age, is not Covid, though Covid may be a symptom of it. Definite symptoms are “Marxism, “progressivism”, climate alarmism, and – most fashionably – “wokeism”.

What is it?

The Danish philosopher Kierkegaard called it despair in his book The Sickness Unto Death.*

We think he is right about that.

Despair is the giving up of all hope: the total loss of reasons to go on existing.

Is collective despair possible? Global collective despair?

Has a time come when the human race is willing to destroy itself because it can see no reason to continue to exist? 

Out of innumerable examples of published statements calling for the end of the human species, we select three:

Phasing out the human race will solve every problem on earth, social and environmental. … The optimum human population of earth is zero.– Dave Foreman, founder of Earth First

The extinction of the human species may not only be inevitable but a good thing….This is not to say that the rise of human civilization is insignificant, but there is no way of showing that it will be much help to the world in the long run. – From an editorial in The Economist

We should not have children.  – From Better Never To Have Been by David Benatar

In fairness to Benatar it needs to be said that his ardent advocacy for human extinction arises not from disgust with human beings as in the case of the other would-be terminators, but from the sincerest pity for their inevitable suffering. Still –  and therefore – in his opinion, go they should.

A group of Jewish Marxists known  as the “Frankfurt School”, doubly infected with intellectual despair by European nihilism and self-hatred, fled from the killer dictator of Germany and brought their own killing misanthropy to America.

In the fetor of their hubris

It was borne across the sea

With a cruelty in their bosoms

That’s destroying you and me.

They were haters of civilization, and what they advocated is destructive of it to such an extent that human survival would be unlikely. Examples by quotation from the (arguably) most extreme of them – Herbert Marcuse – may be found here.

Their philosophy, reinforced by their intellectual epigones, now dominates the universities and public education in America and emanates from there.

It is the only true human pollution of the planet.

It informs the agenda of the Democratic Party, and so of the “Biden” administration and the majority of both houses of Congress.

Out of a fair number of articles whose authors notice the anti-human tenor of contemporary nihilistic Leftism and condemn it, here are three, all found recently at American Greatness:

No society that has stopped believing in its right to exist and the majesty of its laws can deter lawlessness. – Christopher Roach

Statements calling for human extermination come easily to the woke Left’s lips  Paul Gottfried

Best of all:

Few have described wokeism as the cruel creed that it is. Wokeism’s natural logic is to destroy the lives of people of both genders, of all races, and—if need be—those of every age, all to leverage an otherwise unworkable ideological agenda. It is nihilist and destroys everything it touches.Victor Davis Hanson

Nihilism is the philosophy of despair.

Is there a case to be made for the continuation of our species?

What is the value of human life?

We say it is impossible to measure, because human life is itself the only measure of value. No human life, no human consciousness – no such thing as value.

 

Footnote:

* Kierkegaard, though an ironist, considered himself a Christian, sole member of his own singular denomination, so he prescribes an esoteric remedy unavailable to anyone else.

Of rights and wrongs 1

Questions about rights – what they are, who or what grants them, how they may be upheld – are not and cannot be settled. They’re continually subject to debate in our culture.

Everyone’s right to life is quite widely accepted – though not by Communists and Muslims, and only provisionally by French philosophers and American Democrats. A right to liberty has been acknowledged increasingly by most governments – not yet all – over the last couple of hundred years. But other proclaimed rights continue to be passionately demanded and challenged: Does everyone have a right to medical treatment, to education, to housing? Do we have a right not to be offended? If these are rights, how might they be protected?

Rights are things that can be possessed. Individuals own them.

Wrongs are things that people do, or have done to them.

What it is wrong to do was settled for civilized peoples thousands of years ago: it is wrong to kill, to harm, to steal, to lie.

But unsettled questions linger about wrong-doing:

How can wrong-doing be assessed? How should it be dealt with? By whom?

Are some killings not wrong? Is it not wrong to kill in war, in self-defense, in the execution of justice?

And to acknowledge certain (uncivilized) schools of thought we note that it is not wrong according to Communists for a leader to kill individuals for the benefit of the community; not wrong according to Islam for Muslims to kill non-Muslims or their own children; not wrong according to certain French philosophers to kill for the erotic excitement of killing; not wrong according to certain American Democrats to kill an elected president.

Posted under communism, Islam, jihad, liberty, Muslims, Philosophy, Slavery, US Constitution by Jillian Becker on Friday, May 29, 2020

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Progress to extinction continued 16

We ended the post immediately below with this: 

It is not only “hard to imagine where universities go after peak progressivism”, or where the networks can “go after that”; it is impossible to see a destination for the Left itself, in America or anywhere else in the world.

Except to extinction.

Seems there is at least a section of Left opinion in academia, among the climate alarmists, that sets extinction as its goal; not just the extinction of the Left itself, and certainly not the extinction of the planet, but the total extinction of the human race.

Breitbart reports:

Giving birth to a child is “the worst thing you can do” to the climate, says philosophy professor Patricia MacCormack of Anglia Ruskin University.

The professor, author of The Ahuman Manifesto: Activism for the End of the Anthropocene who describes herself as an “old school goth,” says that the only way to save the planet is to stop having children and allow humans to become extinct. …

Due to global overpopulation, giving birth is the worst thing you can do to the planet, MacCormack [maintains], while insisting that she is not advocating wiping out the existing population but rather letting it die off.

“Far from advocating mass death, genocide or eugenics, my manifesto is antinatalist,” says MacCormack. “It boycotts human reproduction due to the damage humans have perpetrated on the Earth and its other inhabitants.”

“The manifesto simply asks that humans no longer reproduce – no life is lost, no being is mourned,” she states. “If we no longer reproduce, we can care for all inhabitants already here, human and non-human, as well as care for the Earth itself by mitigating the damage already caused. It’s an activism of care.”

Care for all those other inhabitants? They need us for that? Are you sure, Madam Professor? I mean – in that case, won’t they miss us when we’re gone?

A native Australian, MacCormack says her opinions have been manipulated and misunderstood.

“I simply propose people not reproduce, and it automatically translated into acts of violence,” she has said.

“So, somehow, I want to kill children, which is ridiculous. Somehow, I’m proposing eugenics or some kind of ethnic population control,” she declares, “and I think that what that shows is there is an anthropocentric — or a human — impulse to read acts of grace as, automatically, acts of violence.” …

So she visualizes the human species going very gently into obliteration.

Along with her opinions regarding the human population, MacCormack advocates overcoming “human privilege” through what she calls “abolitionist veganism,” or the notion that no sentient being should be treated as property of another.

Her prescription for stopping lions, tigers, crocodiles, snakes, eagles, bears, wolves, sharks treating their prey as their property to kill and eat, is not reported.

According to MacCormack, her manifesto “questions the value of human exceptionalism, asking are humans really the ‘best’ forms of life, or should we dismantle our understanding of life as a hierarchy for a more ecological, interconnected scheme of living things?”

In no way are we human beings superior to any other form of life! What arrogance to suppose we are!

Among other climate action groups, MacCormack says that those like the protest group Extinction Rebellion have the right idea but are not going far enough.

“Even Extinction Rebellion only focus on the effect this will have on human life, when climate change is something that will affect every living being on the planet,” she states.

Anglia Ruskin University holds up MacCormack’s ideas on climate, but also underscores her expertise in feminism, queer theory, posthuman ethics, animal studies, and horror films.

Posthuman ethics.

Now there’s something to think about – while there’s anybody left to think at all.

Feminist Witch/University Professor Patricia MacCormack

Posted under Climate, Demography, education, Environmentalism, Feminism, genocide, Leftism, Philosophy, Progressivism by Jillian Becker on Wednesday, February 19, 2020

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Meaning? 40

What meaning of “meaning” is our subject? Significance. Purpose. 

We took the following sentences from an article by Dennis Prager at Townhall, in which he laments that Americans seem to be more unhappy now than they used to be. He mentions various probable causes, then comes to his main point:

And now we come to the biggest problem of all: the lack of meaning.

Aside from food, the greatest human need is meaning.

Poor people who have meaning can be happy, but wealthy people who lack meaning cannot be.

Nothing has given Americans – or any other people, for that matter – as much meaning as religion. But since World War II, God and religion have been relegated to the dustbin of history.The result? More than a third of Americans born after 1980 affiliate with no religion. This is unprecedented in American history; until this generation, the vast majority of Americans have been religious.

Maybe, just maybe, the death of religion – the greatest provider of meaning, while certainly not the only – is the single biggest factor in the increasing sadness and loneliness among Americans (and so many others).

Dennis Prager believes that religion provides the individual with meaning to his life, and endows all human life with meaning.

What is that meaning?

*

What does Christian doctrine say it is?

This answer comes from CARM (Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry):

What Does the Bible say is the purpose of our lives?

According to the Bible, our purpose, the reason we are here, is for God’s glory.  In other words, our purpose is to praise God, worship him, to proclaim his greatness, and to accomplish his will.  This is what glorifies him.  Therefore, in this we find that God has given us a reason for our existence, a meaning for our existence.  We were created by him, according to his desire, and our lives are to be lived for him so that we might accomplish what he has for us to do. …

Even though things can go wrong in our lives, the ultimate reason we are here is to glorify God – even through the difficulties.  We do this by praising him and trusting him through difficult times.

So: “Our purpose is to praise God.” “The reason we are here is to glorify God.”

Was the universe made so that we self-conscious living beings on this planet will “glorify” the maker?

If such a purpose is supreme, the question arises, why was the maker so counterproductive as to make the viruses, and the adverse conditions of nature, and predators, and the propensities for things to fail, and all the adversities and hindrances that incapacitate us? Why provide a multitude of ways the purpose of all creation can be thwarted?

And again if such a purpose is supreme, why did he, the Purposer, bother to make billions of stars and planets with no living beings on them to do any glorifying whatsoever?

And does that purpose, that meaning, keep Christians happy?

*

What does Islam say?

From Arab news:

Islam is the response to humanity’s search for meaning. The purpose of creation for all men and women for all times has been one: To know and worship God.

Here again is the belief that the universe was made so that we on this planet can know and worship (praise, glorify) its maker.

On this Islam and Christianity agree.

And do they agree that believing it makes a lot of people happy? Are Muslims happy?

*

What does Judaism say?

We find its answer to “What is the meaning and purpose of human life and the existence of the universe?” is not much different from those of Christianity and Islam: glorify, know, worship. (Not surprisingly, as it inspired both the younger religions.) But its expression of the idea is less succinct, more recondite and perplexing, even vague – and as is common with vague ideas, long-winded.

This is from an article in Commentary by the highly respected authority Emil L. Fackenheim (April 1965):

In the eyes of Judaism, whatever meaning life acquires derives from this encounter: the Divine accepts and confirms the human in the moment of [their] meeting. But the meaning conferred upon human life by the Divine-human encounter cannot be understood in terms of some finite human purpose, supposedly more ultimate than the meeting itself. For what could be more ultimate than the Presence of God? The Presence of God, then, as Martin Buber puts it, is an “inexpressible confirmation of meaning. . . . The question of the meaning of life is no longer there. But were it there, it would not have to be answered.” …

So: Human beings – or at least the followers of Judaism – can and do “encounter” God. If a human being does “encounter” – or “meet” – God, his existence has meaning. And the whole of “creation” has meaning because some human beings “encounter” God? Wait, no. The encounter “confirms” meaning. And at the same time abolishes the need for knowing it.

But what meaning does it “confirm”?

In Judaism, however, this “inexpressible confirmation of meaning” does, after all, assume expression; and this is because the Divine-human meeting assumes structure and content. … through the way man is accepted and confirmed as a consequence of this meeting. In Judaism God accepts and confirms man by commanding him in his humanity; and the response called for is obedience to God—an obedience to be expressed in finite human form. …

So obey the God-given Law. That is the purpose of your life. Your own reward is here and now on this earth. 

… The God of Judaism is no Deistic First Cause which, having caused the world, goes into perpetual retirement. Neither is He a Law-giver who, having given laws, leaves man to respond in human solitariness. Along with the commandment, handed over for human action, goes the promise of Divine action. And because Divine action makes itself contingent upon human action, a relationship of mutuality is established. God gives to man a covenant—that is, a contract; He binds Himself by its terms and becomes a partner.

You fulfill your side of the covenant or contract, and God will fulfill his.

… God is long-suffering enough to put up with persistent human failures; and at length it becomes clear that the covenant can survive only if God’s patience is absolute. The covenant, to be sure, remains mutual; and Divine action remains part of this mutuality, as a response to human deeds. But Divine action also breaks through this limitation and maintains the covenant in unilateral love. …  Sin still causes God to punish Israel; but no conceivable sin on Israel’s part can cause Him to forsake her. Divine Love has made the covenant indestructible. …

Then what happened between 1942 and 1945? The all-powerful merciful god plainly did not act as an all-powerful merciful god could be expected to act when his human partner was in extreme need of powerful merciful intervention. Then how can any Jew go on believing in him, let alone worshiping him?

It is incomprehensible. Why didn’t the Holocaust convince the entire Jewish people that their god is either non-existent or evil? 

This month is the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The leaders of many nations met in Jerusalem to show sympathy with the survivors of the Nazi genocide. In speech after speech by Christian and Jew, the blessing of “God” is asked for Israel. Why? Because continuing to believe he exists and is good and merciful makes for happiness, even as they stood inside a monument to the slaughtered six million? 

Emil Fackenheim states:    

A meaning at once manifest in history and yet indifferent to poverty, war, and tyranny is unthinkable to the Jewish mind.

So unthinkable that the “Jewish mind” can pretend it didn’t happen?

Apparently so. But why?

Because, you see, “His” divine ways are inscrutable:

But the Jewish search for meaning in history is bounded by a … limitation … Not only is the disclosure of meaning in history fragmentary; the meaning itself is fragmentary. Past and present point not only to a finite future but to one which is absolute and all-consummating as well. Not until an eschatological dimension, a messianic belief, comes into view is the Jewish understanding of meaning in history complete.

The Messiah will come, then all will become clear. It will be the end of history; the eschaton. The whole picture will be seen at last and it will be absolutely glorious.

That was as far as traditional Judaism looked: to the end of time.

Jews were … forced to go beyond acceptance of an undisclosed meaning in history. They had to question meaning in history itself, in the light of historical realities. This questioning, to be sure, did not result in wholesale skepticism, or a despair of meaning in history. But it did result in the belief that meaning has remained incomplete in past history, and must remain so in any future that does not differ qualitatively from the past.

In other words, yes, what has happened to the Jews, and to human beings generally, has largely been pretty bloody nasty, which is precisely why we can expect the future to be  superlatively delightful.

Or not. Maybe the whole picture, the glorious fulfillment, the purpose and meaning of earthly existence will come only in an afterlife. Beyond the Messiah, beyond the eschaton, beyond death –  so later Judaism allowed itself to consider – there may be another life:

The messianic future, while the earliest, is not the only eschatological expectation in Judaism. Beside and beyond it emerges the hope for a “world-to-come”—a hope which, although post-Biblical in origin, was always implicit in the Jewish belief that God gives meaning to individual lives wholly and in their own right. Whereas the Messianic future redeems an incomplete history, the world-to-come redeems the incomplete individual lives which exist in history.

By “incomplete lives” does he mean miserable lives? Lives in which believing does not make for happiness? Lives cut off by murder for religious reasons?

Despite the absence of the belief in life after death from the Hebrew Bible, Orthodox post-Biblical theology quite deliberately embraces it. For the Divine commandment has accepted the individual and therefore any Redemption would remain incomplete—as the Messianic end by itself does—if it did not give completion to the individual. But no more can the Messianic goal of a redeemed future be identified with an Eternity beyond all time. A primordial Divine commanding Love has endowed history with meaning, in that it calls for meaningful human action. The great Divine-human drama of history thus initiated cannot be retroactively destroyed by an end which makes this world merely a place in which to prepare for another, and in itself meaningless. Redemption must consummate both the history in which men work and wait, and the lives of the individuals who work and wait in it.

What is meant by “redemption”?  Some sort of compensation? Or merely “forgiveness” of “sins”?

The two aspects of the eschatological expectation, then, must remain mutually irreducible, even despite the conscious recognition that Eternity must surely supersede all future history. This can be so because the world-to-come remains radically unintelligible. The rabbinic sources confine themselves to saying that it will redeem the whole man whom the Divine commandment has accepted from the beginning—not an immortal soul only, but a resurrected psychosomatic totality.

That is a reference to the belief in bodily resurrection that was held by all but one faction of the Jews (the Sadducees, the party of the priests), when Judea was a province of Rome. The time of “Jesus” who, Christians believe, rose bodily to a physical heaven. To which also his virgin mother was heaved up bodily by angels.

They are well aware that this is past all understanding, and they view silence on the subject as a necessity imposed by the silence of the Bible itself.

They can’t say anything about it because they don’t know anything about it. Yet they know that it will be. They know there is an end, a purpose, a meaning. And that it is good. But not what it is. 

What does Hinduism say?

From the Ohio State University:

According to Hinduism, the meaning (purpose) of life is four-fold: to achieve Dharma, Artha, Kama, and Moksha.

The first, Dharma, means to act virtuously and righteously. That is, it means to act morally and ethically throughout one’s life. However, dharma also has a secondary aspect; since Hindus believe that they are born in debt to the Gods and other human beings, dharma calls for Hindus to repay this debt. The five different debts are as follows: debt to the Gods for their blessings, debt to parents and teachers, debt to guests, debt to other human beings, and debt to all other living beings.

The second meaning of life according to Hinduism is Artha, which refers to the pursuit of wealth and prosperity in one’s life. Importantly, one must stay within the bounds of dharma while pursuing this wealth and prosperity (i.e. one must not step outside moral and ethical grounds in order to do so).

The third purpose of a Hindu’s life is to seek Kama. In simple terms, Kama can be defined as obtaining enjoyment from life.

So far, so good. Live well. Behave decently towards your fellow human beings. Strive for prosperity. All sound and sensible. All stands up to examination in the light of day.

But then the murkiness which characterizes religious belief closes in:

The fourth and final meaning of life according to Hinduism is Moksha, enlightenment. By far the most difficult meaning of life to achieve, Moksha may take an individual just one lifetime to accomplish (rarely) or it may take several. However, it is considered the most important meaning of life and offers such rewards as liberation from reincarnation, self-realization, enlightenment, or unity with God.

“Unity with God” is what it’s for, the reason we endure our sufferings through many lives. That’s how hard it is to achieve.

*

What does Buddhism say?

Buddhism denies that there is any permanent and absolute significance of life, and described life as unsatisfactory (s. dukkha) and void (s. sunyata). However, Buddha acknowledged that there is a relative significance of life, and it is through this relative and conditioned nature of life that we can achieve and realize the universal truth. According to the discourses of the Buddha, our lives, and the world, are nothing but phenomena that rise and fall. It is a process of forming and degenerating. There is nothing that is not subject to change or impermanence. Impermanence indicates that there is no eternal bliss, because even a joyous state will eventually cease and become suffering.

Individuals can, however, attain a state of bliss temporarily. It’s not a purpose, not a meaning, not a significance, but a release from suffering. And that’s a lot!

*

No, Mr. Prager. Religion does not provide anything close to a satisfactory meaning of the universe’s existence or purpose of human lives.  

There is no meaning to existence.

The significance, or value, of human life cannot be measured because human life itself is the measure. Trying to assess the value of life is like trying to assess the wetness of water.

As for happiness, we each find it, if we do, as we can.

A few things that help most of us:  Living in a free country. Doing work we like doing. Making money. (Never mind being called a gross materialist. Even if money can’t buy happiness, lack of it can’t buy anything.)  Having a family. Having friends. Learning and thinking. Pleasures of the appetites and senses. Achieving our self-chosen purposes.

But to live is to suffer. Even the most fortunate of human beings cannot escape pain, disappointment, failure, and loss. And suffering  has not and cannot conceivably have any meaning or purpose that makes it good (except, within civilized limits, as legally imposed punishment).

We concede that some find happiness, or consolation for unhappiness, in religion. But for countless millions religion has been and continues to be a source of fear, anguish, and death.

 

Jillian Becker   January 29, 2020

Posted under Articles, Philosophy, Religion general, United States by Jillian Becker on Wednesday, January 29, 2020

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The pursuit of happiness 57

Gentlefolk in the 18th. century thought that to try to live happily was a reasonable aim, to judge by the statement of the great authors of the US Declaration of Independence. To them it appeared “self-evident” that every person had a “right” (“endowed by their Creator”, or, in other words, a natural right) to his life and his choice how to live it, which surely meant that he would live it as nearly to his heart’s desire as he could.

Horny handed sons of toil, even if as free under the law, were not expected, either by themselves or their betters, to achieve the same forms of happiness. Enough for them if they could earn their daily bread. For that they lived and strove. Their life was the striving. It occupied their hours, their days, their years, their bodies and their thoughts. Success was survival. Survival was for most of them the only reasonable attainable happiness. If some strove for more – excess, property, leisure – and attained it, then happiness abounded. (Happiness, that is to say, as contentment. Other forms of gratification – thrills, excitement, delights of the senses, scoring triumphs – are not our subject. They are experienced episodically and enjoyed to the degree the individual is capable of.)

The welfare state relieved the workers of the need to strive for survival. Now all could be philosophers. The joy of exploring the limitless sphere of the mind was open to all. Universal happiness would reign.

But doesn’t.

The reasons why people commit suicide are many and various, but what they all have in common is that they find life unbearable. So suicide rates might be taken as a gauge of happiness and the lack of it in a population.

The figures for those rates from the last few years (according to Wikipedia – and perhaps not entirely trustworthy) provide some surprises. (Worth noticing in passing – far more males kill themselves than do females everywhere.)

Highest suicide rate in the world: Greenland. Average 82.8 per 100,000 per annum. It is a welfare state.

Google reveals:

As part of Denmark, Greenlanders have access to one of the most extensive social welfare systems in Europe, including universal, nationalized medical care and free state education, including college.

(President Trump has asked Denmark if it would sell Greenland to the USA. Rhetorical question: Would life in Greenland be better, more bearable, happier if it became the 51st. state of the USA, which provides much less welfare? USA suicide average per 100,000 per annum, 14.5.)

Big drop to the next highest. Guyana 30.2, Lithuania 28.27, South Korea 26.6

The average for most European countries is between 12.57 (Germany) and 17 (Belgium).

Britain? Only 7.23!

China? 9.8

Iran 4.8   The state does most of the killing there.

Venezuela 3.2  Nature does it there, because the people are starving and have no medicines. Venezuela is – way beyond a welfare state – a socialist state.

Syria 0.1  Constant civil war rages there.

Pakistan 1.1   People are happy in Pakistan?

Haiti  – a truly miserable place of hunger and disease. Average suicide?  0.0

But back to the pursuit of happiness in the civilized West.

What went wrong? Is it possible that the strivers enjoyed the striving and its meager rewards?

Or did philosophizing bring the newly leisured to ask, “What is it all for anyway?“. And find no answer?

There are thousands of counselors – even millions, we would guess – telling unhappy people how to be happy. There are hundreds of thousands of books giving readers rules for living –  from obedience to which, happiness might be expected.

And there is religion. Religion is supposed to “give meaning to life”.

Does it answer the question “what is it all for anyway?”

Let’s look at an individual case of unhappiness. In America.

At the American Conservative, we found this letter, reproduced by Rod Dreher, to whom it was sent as if to an agony aunt:

Mr. Dreher,

The things you have been writing lately about alienated young men and mass shootings prompt me to reach out to you. I am not a young man anymore, but I am dealing with things that I did not imagine I would be when I was young and newly married. Back then, everything made sense. I feel like I need to tell my story.

My background is that I am a successful businessman (a kind of consultant) living in a well-to-do suburb of a Southern city. My wife and I married relatively early, and had two kids. The boys are in good colleges in other states. They are getting ready to head back to school next week. It has been a real pleasure having them here this summer. Our house becomes a tomb when they are not around.

Four years ago, my wife told me that she didn’t want to be married to me anymore. After almost 30 years, she had had enough. I did not see that coming. We almost never fought. We used to go to dinner together, take family vacations, do things together, etc etc. She just said that she thought she had hitched herself to a man too young, and now that the boys were older and out of the house, she was reconsidering her life. I asked her if there was another man. She said no, and eventually I believed her. I asked her if she wanted a divorce. She said probably so, but she wanted to wait until the boys got out of school. She is a reasonable person with a finance background, and knows that a divorce would cost us a lot at a time when we are supporting two kids in college.

She has a job she loves. I work from a home office. I was so glad when my company gave me the chance to do this. I miss the friendships in the office, but when you talk on your blog about wokeness in the workplace, I always find myself nodding along. A few years back, my company started getting engaged with “diversity and inclusivity” in the workplace. I noticed that every time they would run us all through one of those seminars, we would all come out of it more suspicious of each other. It was crazy. It was as if our bosses were trying to poison the office environment. I got to the point where as a white male, I saw my co-workers as potentially the people who would try to get me fired if I said one wrong thing by mistake. They might have seen me that way too. It was crazy. The more management pushed “diversity and inclusivity”, the more anxious things felt in the office. When the company was restructuring and offered people in my division the chance to work at home, I jumped at it, just to get out of that tense environment.

It was a blessing at first, but nowadays I wonder if that was the right thing to do. The idea of working from home seems great, until you realize that you don’t see people at all. I have a nice home office where I put in my 9 to 5, which is really more like 8 to 7, but everybody does that. If I’m being truthful, I stay in my office longer than I have to on most days, because there is nothing for me outside of it. My wife used to be my best friend. Now we just share a house and a bed. She has friends from her office, and goes out with them a lot. When all this started, I honestly thought she was seeing some guy. I’m not going into the details, but I’m truly convinced that she’s not. She’s just hanging out with other middle-aged women who are sick of their husbands too.

I used to think only men behaved like that. Mother and Daddy have both passed away, but they had a good marriage. Some of their friends got divorced when I was a kid, and it was always the man leaving his wife for a younger woman. They were very judgmental of them, but in a way I still think was right. They were Southern people (I think you know what I mean, Mr. Dreher), and that meant that they thought it was dishonorable for a man to do his wife like that. I internalized that honor code, and have always lived by it, and my Catholic faith. If my wife demands a divorce, I will give it to her, but I won’t marry again. How could I go through an annulment? I can’t say truthfully that this was not really a marriage. I meant it when I said my vows, and I believe my wife did too. I am not going to make bastards of my sons because my wife abandoned me and I want to be married again. Besides, there would be no marrying again for me anyway. I look at myself in the mirror — mid to late 50s, half-bald, pot belly, etc etc. What woman would want me even if I was free to marry her?

I was an only child, so I have no close family to speak of. We are Catholics. My faith is just about the only thing that keeps me going through all this, but it’s thin. My wife refuses to see a marriage counselor. I made the first steps to getting an appointment to talk to our priest, but I gave up because that was hopeless. I feel bad for our priest. He’s managing a big suburban parish all on his own. It would have taken forever to get an appointment, and there was no way he was going to be able to give us the time it would take to save our marriage, especially given that my wife doesn’t want to save it. Besides, there is nothing I’ve ever heard our priest say that tells me he is a man who could help us. He talks like one of those life coaches our company used to bring in for team building exercises, a guy who gets all his ideas from Hallmark cards.

She still goes to mass with me, but just out of habit. When I stand there listening to Fr give his cheerful but empty homilies, I think about what’s keeping me from going home and blowing my brains out. I’m not going to do this because I’m scared of pain and I’m scared of going to Hell. Also, I don’t want to hurt the boys, and make them feel like they did something to cause it or give them something to be ashamed of. However, I think a lot about how little I have to live for anymore. I am not even sure that the boys think of me much, except as “Good Old Dad”…

Nobody can see it. I stand there in church, wearing my coat and tie, and people probably think I have it all together. We drive nice cars, we live in a nice house in a good neighborhood, etc, etc. I am grateful to have a good job that has allowed me to provide for my family. By all the world’s standards, I’m doing well. I have “white privilege”. 

What a joke. When I first started working in my home office, I would dress up in a coat, no tie, and dress pants to go to “work.” It felt right to hang on to that habit. Since my marriage fell apart, I notice that some days I don’t even get out of my pajamas. I sit there at my nice desk doing all my work on my laptop, and go right back to bed at the end of the day without even taking a shower. I know this is pathetic, and if the boys were still at home, I would know to keep up appearances. This is my life.

When the boys graduate and don’t have to depend on us, I guess that will mean Decision Time. I will probably move out, though to all rights we ought to sell the house. I remember the day we bought it, and talking with my wife about that big dining room, and how we looked forward to the kids coming home with their wives and children for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Oh, we sure had big plans for that dining room. We bought a house with a fireplace because we dreamed about sitting around it with the grandchildren. All that is over now, and not because I wanted it to be. I feel so powerless. Maybe I would stay here if either one of the boys moved back, but given the fields they have chosen, I don’t look for that to happen, and even if it did, we would just be keeping up appearances for their sake. Southern people are real good at that, as you know.

What prompted me to write to you is your writings about the loneliness crisis. I am not some white trash 22 y.o. living in a trailer somewhere, playing video games, and living off his Mama, but I am completely isolated in my life. My “video game” is Excel spreadsheets. The friends I had back in the happier days were all “couples friends” through my wife. When she said she didn’t want to be married to me, we stopped having people over, and stopped accepting invitations to other people’s houses. After a few years, those invitations stopped coming. I tried to keep up these friendships with the husbands, but it was awkward. I told a couple of the guys I was closest to about the mess in my marriage, and they seemed sympathetic, but there wasn’t a lot they could do. They all had kids, and their couples friends. Two or three times I went to their dinner parties by myself, but you talk about awkward! I was embarrassed by it all, and just quit going. I miss those guys, and I even miss their wives. We used to be happy all together.

If this is “white privilege”, screw it. I stopped by the shoe repair shop a couple of weeks ago, and there were some black guys my age sitting around talking and laughing with each other. I envied them. I probably make 10 or 15 times more than them, but they are probably rich in ways that I used to be before I went “bankrupt”. I would trade all this so-called “white privilege” for a happy marriage, a strong family, and good friends. Mother and Daddy didn’t have a lot of money, but at least they had that. They also had a small-town church where they felt at home. How can anybody feel at home in a big parish like mine? I was taught to be charitable, especially to the clergy, and I do feel bad for our priest, who is carrying a heavy load. But this ain’t church. I’ve gotten to the point where I sit there during mass and I wonder how many of those men in the pews are just like me: barely holding it together, wondering what the hell we’re living for, ignored by our wives, and starving for friendship. God feels so far away. I have never doubted His existence, but these days, He feels like the Pope — a nice man who lives far away and who doesn’t see us.

I know I sound like I’m feeling sorry for myself. I guess I am. But damn it, I didn’t think things were going to work out like this. I did everything I was supposed to do, and it all fell to pieces anyway. I’m racking my brains trying to figure out how I can fix this, but my wife doesn’t want it to be fixed. She just wants out. I recognize that I am privileged economically and socially, but I’m here to tell you that if you were a working man who drove by my house, and saw me out front mowing our big lawn, you would think I had it made. In fact, you would be looking at a dead man, at a man who secretly hopes he falls over from a heart attack so he doesn’t have to keep carrying this weight of loneliness. At this point, my only purpose in life is to do what I have to do so my sons can have a good life or think they have a good life, until they get to my age and it falls to shit, and they end up doing just what their Good Old Dad is doing.

The thought just occurred to me as I’m writing this that the only real reason we will have to keep our household together after our sons graduate is if one of them can’t find a job, and has to live with us. That’s a sorry state to be in, knowing that the only thing that would keep you and your wife together is an unemployed grown-up child.

I appreciate the opportunity to get this off of my chest. I like reading your blog because even though it’s depressing sometimes, I feel like you talk about the real world, which is more than I get from my priest. I would just ask your readers to keep in mind that when they see people at church, in the store, and at other places, that those people might be suffering in ways that are not obvious. You think folks have it made, but they don’t. You see me getting out of my [luxury car brand] at church, with my wife, and we’re all dressed up and smiling, but from my very jaded perspective, we’re dead people who have no future. At least my wife has the girls from the office.

I’ve thought about asking my manager if I can come back to the office, but I know that’s not a solution. I’m the Great White Male, the source of all evil in the world. Given my run of luck, it would be about right for somebody to falsely accuse me of something, and end up taking away the last I have left from what started out as an American dream. I’d end up jobless and poor, and then the gun to the head might not seem so scary after all.

Sorry. Thanks for listening.

One thing we find particularly interesting about this “confession” is how little the man’s faith does for him. Fear of hell keeps him from suicide. That’s about all.

If he were not a believing Catholic, he might have developed some curiosity about the world he lives in. It has not occurred to him to go exploring in the infinite realm of the mind.

He was happier when his children lived with him. If he had grandchildren living near by he might be happy again. For a while, anyway. Until they grew up. But young men are not quick to marry now and raise a family.

Readers, your comments are needed.

The god of the gaffes 17

Why would baffled scientists reach for a supernatural explanation of puzzling phenomena?

David Gelernter, professor of computer science at Yale, reviews books that argue against Charles Darwin at the Claremont Review of Books in an article titled Giving Up Darwin.

Stephen Meyer’s thoughtful and meticulous Darwin’s Doubt (2013) convinced me that Darwin has failed. … Two other books are also essential: The Deniable Darwin and Other Essays (2009), by David Berlinski, and Debating Darwin’s Doubt (2015), an anthology edited by David Klinghoffer, which collects some of the arguments Meyer’s book stirred up. These three form a fateful battle group that most people would rather ignore. Bringing to bear the work of many dozen scientists over many decades, Meyer, who after a stint as a geophysicist in Dallas earned a Ph.D. in History and Philosophy of Science from Cambridge and now directs the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, disassembles the theory of evolution piece by piece. Darwin’s Doubt is one of the most important books in a generation. Few open-minded people will finish it with their faith in Darwin intact.

Gelernter explains the anti-Darwin arguments:

In the famous “Cambrian explosion” of around half a billion years ago, a striking variety of new organisms—including the first-ever animals—pop up suddenly in the fossil record over a mere 70-odd million years. This great outburst followed many hundreds of millions of years of slow growth and scanty fossils, mainly of single-celled organisms, dating back to the origins of life roughly three and half billion years ago.

Darwin’s theory predicts that new life forms evolve gradually from old ones in a constantly branching, spreading tree of life. Those brave new Cambrian creatures must therefore have had Precambrian predecessors, similar but not quite as fancy and sophisticated. They could not have all blown out suddenly [if, he is saying, Darwin was right], like a bunch of geysers. Each must have had a closely related predecessor, which must have had its own predecessors: Darwinian evolution is gradual, step-by-step. All those predecessors must have come together, further back, into a series of branches leading down to the (long ago) trunk.

But those predecessors of the Cambrian creatures are missing. Darwin himself was disturbed by their absence from the fossil record. He believed they would turn up eventually. Some of his contemporaries … held that the fossil record was clear enough already, and showed that Darwin’s theory was wrong. Perhaps only a few sites had been searched for fossils, but they had been searched straight down. The Cambrian explosion had been unearthed, and beneath those Cambrian creatures their Precambrian predecessors should have been waiting—and weren’t. In fact, the fossil record as a whole lacked the upward-branching structure Darwin predicted.

The trunk was supposed to branch into many different species, each species giving rise to many genera, and towards the top of the tree you would find so much diversity that you could distinguish separate phyla—the large divisions (sponges, mosses, mollusks, chordates, and so on) that comprise the kingdoms of animals, plants, and several others … But … the fossil record shows the opposite: “representatives of separate phyla appearing first followed by lower-level diversification on those basic themes”. In general, “most species enter the evolutionary order fully formed and then depart unchanged”. The incremental development of new species is largely not there. Those missing pre-Cambrian organisms have still not turned up. (Although fossils are subject to interpretation, and some biologists place pre-Cambrian life-forms closer than others to the new-fangled Cambrian creatures.)

Some researchers have guessed that those missing Precambrian precursors were too small or too soft-bodied to have made good fossils. Meyer notes that fossil traces of ancient bacteria and single-celled algae have been discovered: smallness per se doesn’t mean that an organism can’t leave fossil traces—although the existence of fossils depends on the surroundings in which the organism lived, and the history of the relevant rock during the ages since it died. The story is similar for soft-bodied organisms. Hard-bodied forms are more likely to be fossilized than soft-bodied ones, but many fossils of soft-bodied organisms and body parts do exist. Precambrian fossil deposits have been discovered in which tiny, soft-bodied embryo sponges are preserved—but no predecessors to the celebrity organisms of the Cambrian explosion.

This sort of negative evidence can’t ever be conclusive. But the ever-expanding fossil archives don’t look good for Darwin, who made clear and concrete predictions that have (so far) been falsified—according to many reputable paleontologists, anyway. When does the clock run out on those predictions? Never. But any thoughtful person must ask himself whether scientists today are looking for evidence that bears on Darwin, or looking to explain away evidence that contradicts him. There are some of each. Scientists are only human, and their thinking (like everyone else’s) is colored by emotion.

Darwin’s main problem, however, is molecular biology. There was no such thing in his own time. We now see from inside what he could only see from outside, as if he had developed a theory of mobile phone evolution without knowing that there were computers and software inside or what the digital revolution was all about. Under the circumstances, he did brilliantly.

Biology in his time was for naturalists, not laboratory scientists. … But the character of the field has changed, and it’s not surprising that old theories don’t necessarily still work.

Darwin’s theory is simple to grasp; its simplicity is the heart of its brilliance and power. We all know that variation occurs naturally among individuals of the same type—white or black sheep, dove-gray versus off-white or pale beige pigeons … [M]any variations have no effect on a creature’s prospects, but some do. A sheep born with extra-warm wool will presumably do better at surviving a rough Scottish winter than his normal-wooled friends. Such a sheep would be more likely than normal sheep to live long enough to mate, and pass on its superior trait to the next generation. Over millions of years, small good-for-survival variations accumulate, and eventually (says Darwin) you have a brand new species. The same mechanism naturally favors genes that are right for the local environment—warm wool in Scotland, light and comfortable wool for the tropics, other varieties for mountains and deserts. Thus one species (your standard sheep) might eventually become four specialized ones. And thus new species should develop from old in the upward-branching tree pattern Darwin described.

The advent of molecular biology made it possible to transform Darwinism into Neo-Darwinism. The new version explains (it doesn’t merely cite) natural variation, as the consequence of random change or mutation to the genetic information within cells that deal with reproduction. Those cells can pass genetic change onward to the next generation, thus changing—potentially—the future of the species and not just one individual’s career.

The engine that powers Neo-Darwinian evolution is pure chance and lots of time. By filling in the details of cellular life, molecular biology makes it possible to estimate the power of that simple mechanism. But what does generating new forms of life entail? Many biologists agree that generating a new shape of protein is the essence of it. Only if Neo-Darwinian evolution is creative enough to do that is it capable of creating new life-forms and pushing evolution forward.

Proteins are the special ops forces (or maybe the Marines) of living cells, except that they are common instead of rare; they do all the heavy lifting, all the tricky and critical assignments, in a dazzling range of roles. Proteins called enzymes catalyze all sorts of reactions and drive cellular metabolism. Other proteins (such as collagen) give cells shape and structure, like tent poles but in far more shapes. Nerve function, muscle function, and photosynthesis are all driven by proteins. And in doing these jobs and many others, the actual, 3-D shape of the protein molecule is important.

So, is the simple neo-Darwinian mechanism up to this task? Are random mutation plus natural selection sufficient to create new protein shapes?

Gelernter’s answer, in agreement with the books he is reviewing, is No. He explains why in some detail. We have no quarrel with him over this point. We are not scientists and have no idea whether the answer is solidly proved or not. We accept that the answer is No, and that, consequently, Darwin has been caught out and disproved – in part.

But the reviewed books are about giving up Darwin; negating evolution.

It can hardly be surprising that the revolution in biological knowledge over the last half-century should call for a new understanding of the origin of species.

A new understanding. Darwin was wrong. Evolution is wrong. Species do not evolve. So what does explain the existence of species?

We held our breath at this point in the article. A new theory, as exciting and revolutionary as was Darwin’s when it was sprung upon the world, but better in that it explains the phenomena which Darwin failed to explain, was about to be set before us.

You may be as disappointed as we were with the answer. What explains the “sudden explosion” of Cambrian species; how did all those new living things appear over “a mere 70-odd million years”?

Why, God put them there.

That’s it. Let your heart sink. It’s God again. Not that the word “God” emerges from the scientist’s lips or pen. No, no! In fact Professor Gelernter is careful to inform us that “religion” is not mentioned by the scientists whose work he is discussing.

What they offer us, is the uncertain semi-rationalist’s euphemism for God: “INTELLIGENT DESIGN”.

Intelligent Design, as Meyer describes it, is a simple and direct response to a specific event, the Cambrian explosion. The theory suggests that an intelligent cause intervened to create this extraordinary outburst. By “intelligent” Meyer understands “conscious”; the theory suggests nothing more about the designer.

Can  a “conscious” mind be understood to be anything but a human-type mind? So a human-type mind designed – and made – living things on this earth at least once “over a period of 70-odd million years”.

Gelernter reveals that he himself does not find Meyer’s answer satisfactory:

But where is the evidence? To Meyer and other proponents, that is like asking—after you have come across a tree that is split vertically down the center and half burnt up—“but where is the evidence of a lightning strike?” The exceptional intricacy of living things, and their elaborate mechanisms for fitting precisely into their natural surroundings, seemed to cry out for an intelligent designer long before molecular biology and biochemistry. …  An intelligent designer might seem more necessary than ever now that we understand so much cellular biology, and the impossibly long odds facing any attempt to design proteins by chance, or assemble the regulatory mechanisms that control the life cycle of a cell. …

 “Our uniform experience of cause and effect shows that intelligent design is the only known cause of the origin of large amounts of functionally specified digital information,” [Mayer]  writes. …

Known? Who knows “intelligent design” to be that cause?

If Meyer were invoking a single intervention by an intelligent designer at the invention of life, or of consciousness, or rationality, or self-aware consciousness, the idea might seem more natural. But then we still haven’t explained the Cambrian explosion. An intelligent designer who interferes repeatedly, on the other hand, poses an even harder problem of explaining why he chose to act when he did. Such a cause would necessarily have some sense of the big picture of life on earth. What was his strategy? How did he manage to back himself into so many corners, wasting energy on so many doomed organisms? Granted, they might each have contributed genes to our common stockpile—but could hardly have done so in the most efficient way. What was his purpose? And why did he do such an awfully slipshod job? Why are we so disease prone, heartbreak prone, and so on? An intelligent designer makes perfect sense in the abstract. The real challenge is how to fit this designer into life as we know it. Intelligent design might well be the ultimate answer. But as a theory, it would seem to have a long way to go.

To design is to purpose. The believers in the Intelligent Designer must be asked: What was his purpose? Why did the Designer design and make the life-forms?

And how intelligent was he when he made so many mistakes; made so many life-forms so badly that they could not survive?

Although Stephen Meyer’s book is a landmark in the intellectual history of Darwinism, the theory will be with us for a long time, exerting enormous cultural force. Darwin is no Newton. Newton’s physics survived Einstein and will always survive, because it explains the cases that dominate all of space-time except for the extreme ends of the spectrum, at the very smallest and largest scales. It’s just these most important cases, the ones we see all around us, that Darwin cannot explain. Yet his theory does explain cases of real significance. …

We know that evolution happens. It is happening about us all the time. We ourselves evolve. If there are important questions about the evolution of species that remain unanswered, why not say, “Just as we now see from inside what Darwin could only see from outside, as if he had developed a theory of mobile phone evolution without knowing that there were computers and software inside or what the digital revolution was all about, so in the future we might learn what made the Cambrian explosion possible without looking to the supernatural to explain it.”

An Intelligent Designer is surely the least plausible, the most absurd “explanation” for how things are and how they came about. There is always the possibility that natural explanations will be found for natural phenomena however perplexing. There is no possibility that we will find anything outside of nature.

Posted under Philosophy, Science, Theology by Jillian Becker on Saturday, May 11, 2019

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The political education of Charles Krauthammer 0

” The truth is to be discovered by contention.”

“Libertarianism is an excellent and irreplaceable critique of conservatism, but is too poor and limited to be a governing philosophy.”

“You decide your own ends – but in an ordered universe underpinned by liberty.”

Charles Krauthammer talks about his university education and the formation of his political philosophy, stressing the important influence on him of  John Stuart Mill, in conversation with Charles R. Kesler:

 

Posted under Conservatism, education, Libertarianism, Philosophy, Videos by Jillian Becker on Saturday, June 9, 2018

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Political dhimmis of the West 3

The West has learnt the word “dhimmi since Islam started to succeed (in the 1970s) with its old plan to overwhelm and rule it. A dhimmi is a non-Muslim living under Muslim rule; one who has opted to pay protection money to the overlords in exchange for being allowed to live; one who has submitted to Islam without converting to it.

Which is to say – submitted to an inferior culture, law, and ideology.

But the word could be used more widely. It could usefully be applied to the many weak intellectuals, academics, postmodernists, deconstructionists, feminists … to all who have submitted to the inferior culture, values, ideology of the Left.

They are easy to spot. Their speech is a chant. They chant mantras of the Left.

ReBecca Roloff

Here is an example, so pure it could be used as a perfect model by all “politically correct” dhimmis. It was written by ReBecca [sic] Roloff,  president of St. Catherine University, a Catholic school in St. Paul, Minnesota, to explain why an annual leadership conference was cancelled for 2018. The organizers had suddenly realized that the invited speakers – leaders in industry and commerce – were almost all white people. The Left does not approve of people being hired, appointed to leadership positions, or invited to speak at universities, because of their their merit and achievement. The Left wants people to get jobs and honors on a quota system, to be hired and appointed for – above all else – their color and race. No whites allowed – or as few as may be absolutely necessary, and those few guaranteed to be deeply ashamed of themselves for being white. Ditto if they are male, because “gender” matters next after race. Third, they should not be patriots, Christians, Israelis/Jews, and decidedly not conservatives of any race or “gender”. Fourth, they should not be middle-class  – or even persons of [proven] “ability”! 

In a time where sexism and racism, in their individual and institutional forms, are recognized and called out, those of us in positions of power and privilege – be it through whiteness, maleness, middle-class position, heterosexual-normativity, ability, or Christianity – must slow down, reflect, and listen to those who have been subject to systematic silencing, exploitation, marginalization, and exclusion.

Leftists do not look out of the same window as conservatives. Theirs opens on to a different landscape. They see different causes for political action and judge them according to a different set of values. Their discourse is conducted in different words, a vocabulary out of their own slim political lexicon. The most important word is “diversity“, which means the hiring, appointing, inviting, and listening to only non-white, non-male, non-“heteronormative”, non-middle-class persons who are all of the same political opinion. They see a mirage of President Trump “colluding” with Vladimir Putin.

They do not see what we conservatives see through our window: the need to strengthen the economy by lowering taxes and lifting regulations; to stem the flow of illegal immigrants into the US; to deport illegal aliens who are dangerous criminals; to heal the government agencies that were infected with Clintonitis under the Obama administration. They do not see the Islamic invasion of Europe, the constant threat of terrorism there and in the US by Muslims affiliated with al-Qaeda, ISIS, the Taliban, Iran, Qatar …. They are not concerned about Iran becoming a nuclear power, or North Korea dropping a nuke on Guam. They do not discuss the war in the Middle East. They refuse to notice the outcome of socialist policies imposed in Venezuela where people are now starving.

They attack the Constitution. They want to change the First Amendment so they can stop the expression of all ideas they don’t want to hear. They want to change the Second Amendment so they can stop citizens owning guns.

Institutions could be labeled dhimmis too. Most of the top universities are earning it.

Here’s James Delingpole commenting on Oxford University’s decision that from now on 40% of recommended authors on philosophy reading lists must be women. (How the heck did it arrive at that number?)

How many feminists does it take to ruin a philosophy course?

Oxford University will be letting you know shortly, once it has got the results of its latest politically correct academic experiment.

From now on, Oxford’s philosophy faculty has decreed, 40 percent of the recommended authors on its departmental reading lists must be female.

Also, academic staff have been asked to use philosophers’ first names rather than their initials when compiling reading lists, to make it clearer to undergraduates which ones are female.

This is great news for Barbara Socrates, Mandy Aristotle, Seraphina Wittgenstein, Nancy Descartes, Fifi Trixibelle Locke, Suzi Nietzsche, Bobbi Confucius, Ermintrude Plato, and Petronella Hume, to name but a few of the awesome female philosophical intellects who have been cruelly neglected by history because sexism, misogyny, and the oppressive phallocentric hegemony. …

How then is this new gender quota going to improve standards on the philosophy course at Oxford – formerly (till it became irredeemably SJW converged) one of the world’s better universities?

Short answer: it won’t.

As with artists, composers, writers, musicians, and pretty much every creative or intellectual endeavour you can name, so it is with philosophers: the vast majority of the really great ones were men and the vast majority – for obvious reasons which need not detain us here – always will be men, regardless of how many female contenders get overpromoted thanks to the current fad for enforced gender justice.

So by encouraging students to break down their reading lists according to this ridiculous, politically correct 60:40 gender quota, all the philosophy faculty is doing is promoting dross at the expense of bullion.

Graduates of the philosophy course at Oxford will no longer plausibly be able to claim that they have been properly grounded in the canon because, inevitably, there will be gaps in their knowledge created by the time they’ve wasted on Germaine Greer when they could have been reading someone proper.

This is where Oxford is going unfortunately. And also where Cambridge is going, where Harvard, Yale, and Stanford are going, where most of our great seats of learning are going, in fact.

The twin curses of postmodernism and cultural Marxism have so corrupted academe that even the best universities now prize social justice more highly than intellectual excellence – and aren’t even embarrassed to boast about it. They actually think that gender quotas are a sign of progress.

But do they actually think?

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