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God as a scientific theory

in a recent column for the american prospect, former clinton labor secretary and communist hardliner robert b. reisch submits that faith, not terrorism, is the greatest threat of our age.

no, really.

The great conflict of the 21st century will not be between the West and terrorism. Terrorism is a tactic, not a belief. The true battle will be between modern civilization and anti-modernists; between those who believe in the primacy of the individual and those who believe that human beings owe their allegiance and identity to a higher authority; between those who give priority to life in this world and those who believe that human life is mere preparation for an existence beyond life; between those who believe in science, reason, and logic and those who believe that truth is revealed through Scripture and religious dogma. Terrorism will disrupt and destroy lives. But terrorism itself is not the greatest danger we face.

there's fodder here for a month's worth of ranting, maybe more.  particularly juicy targets are the increasingly trendy equivocation between osama and say, pat robertson, and the idea that a former high profile public servant of these united states would hold to such notions.  the very idea that the free and constitutional exercise of religion upon which our nation was founded is analogous to flying planes into buildings full of innocent people...well, been there, done that. 

i've also said more than a little on the topic of God and science, but damned if this didn't stick in my craw: "The true battle will be between...those who believe in science, reason, and logic and those who believe that truth is revealed through Scripture and religious dogma."

there's enough anecdotal evidence for the idea that faith and science are sworn enemies to give a heathen's prejudice the trappings of dispassionate jurisprudence.  galileo was locked in a tower, Bible Belt creationists sought (and continue to seek) the thwarting of approved scientific curriculum in public schools--you've heard it all before.  but all that this really establishes is that there have been historic conflicts between certain practitioners of certain faiths and science.  the leap from this to the idea that faith and reason are fundamentally opposed is entirely circumstantial and flatly untenable in light of serious investigation.

the supposed incompatibility is made quite curious by the fact that science sprang from faith, in particular, from the Judeo-Christian version of it.  it's not a coincidence that science emerged in the west rather than the east.  and while it's true that the east was frequently superior to the west in terms of technology (example: gunpowder) this had little to do with a sound, scientific understanding of the principles involved.  in the east, faith really was opposed to science and reason.

eastern systems of thought tend to view the universe holistically.  an individual must be understood as a manifestation of the whole, hence without an understanding of the universal, a proper understanding of the specific is impossible.

the west, by contrast, started in exactly the opposite place with the belief that seemingly unrelated individual phenomena could be properly understood apart from the big picture, and that this knowledge could be combined to form a more comprehensive understanding of the universe in total.

in both cases the physical beliefs flowed from the spiritual ones, but one lead to science and some of the greatest achievements of the human race, and the other lead to impoverished cultures which are still struggling to catch up. 

the concept of God we get in the Holy Scriptures is that of a rational being, one who would not have laid the universe out in a fundamentally chaotic way.  since, as the Bible teaches, God created man in His Own Image, it is reasonable to suppose that the order of the universe would be apparent to us.  indeed, this supposition is frequently thrust upon us by Scripture itself, which contains numerous references to the glories of creation and exhortations to consider its marvels as testaments to the nature of their Creator.

that's a hypothesis, really.  it's an educated guess about the nature of reality, revealed, as reisch put it, "through Scripture and religious dogma."

and it’s worked like gangbusters.

consider the oft lamented case of copernicus, who, as everyone knows, was persecuted by the church for his refutation of "retrograde motion," in favor of the modern heliocentric view of our solar system.  here is a crystal clear case of the conflict between science and religion, the persecution of science by religion, and the eventual triumph of science over religion.  except there never really was any conflict and there never really was any persecution.  in the dedication of the revolutions of the celestial orbs, copernicus wrote to pope paul III that he was merely pursuing an investigation of truth "to the extent permitted to human reason by God," and that those who opposed him were "ignorant babblers, who, twisting some passage of Scripture to their purpose, will find fault here."  copernicus correctly understood that mathematics was the language of science, and in some ways, that of the Divine.  he looked for beauty and simplicity in nature, harmonious geometrical forms rather than the clunky, ad hoc models of his contemporaries who were more interested in maintaining political preeminence than getting to the truth of the matter.  these, as he saw it, were the hallmarks of a rational Creator, the "well ordered," and "enduring."  consider his vision of gravity, "nothing but a certain natural desire, implanted by the Creator, to gather all things towards the unity of a globe...All these facts are disclosed to us by observing the order in which the planets follow one another, and by the harmony of the entire universe, if only we look at the matter, as the saying goes, with both eyes."  the pope lauded copernicus and urged him to publish, as did other important catholics and protestants.

carolus linnaeus, the father of the modern taxonomic system and thus the man who more or less gave birth to the modern science of biology, was motivated by a similar belief in the God of Christianity.  prior to linnaeus, it was generally accepted that animals shifted from one form to another, freely sliding up and down the hierarchy of creation known as the "great chain of being."  contrary to this fluid, rather pagan model, the Bible taught that each living thing reproduced according to its own "kind," a notion which linnaeus refined into something akin to the modern concept of "species."

starting with the idea that God created animals according to certain kinds, linnaeus realized that the task of the naturalist must be to acknowledge what is actually present in nature rather than imposing artificial classifications upon it.  the task is ongoing even today, but it was linnaeus who first set us to it.

one last example: issac newton.  newton launched perhaps the greatest of all scientific revolutions with the publication of Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, or, the principia.  the principia provided the mathematical basis for copernicus' observations, and through the use of calculus, which newton invented specifically for the task, was able to define the fundamental concept of force, show how that particular force known as "gravity" obeyed a simple, well-defined mathematical formula, and using this formula, derive the very cosmic motions copernicus worked so hard to defend.  it is fair to say that, before issac newton, physics as we know it did not exist. 

newton is famously quoted as saying that he saw farther than other men because he stood on the backs of giants, specifically men like copernicus and, of course, galileo, who died the very year of newton's birth.  but newton also knew where to look.  like linnaeus and copernicus before him, newton was a firm believer in the tenets of natural theology, the idea that since by God's wisdom the universe was founded, an understanding of the universe was nothing less than a glimpse into the mind the of God, or, as newton put it "The most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being."

even most famous instance of scientific suffering at the hands of religion is exaggerated and over-simplified.  galileo, who was himself a believer, was indeed persecuted by the catholic church for his writings (mildly compared to some of the horrors inquisitors had previously wrought), but what is frequently neglected is that galileo's sufferings, however mild, could have probably been avoided altogether had he the tact to refrain from rubbing the pope's nose in his theory.  galileo was a long time friend of the pope, and when he published his findings, he did so in the form of a dialogue with the advocate of the pope's views in the roll of the fool.  naturally the pope was insulted.  that doesn't justify his treatment of galileo, but it does show that it had little to do with any inherent conflict between faith and science.  that part was merely pretext.  keep in mind that a few scant decades earlier, copernicus had actually won the pope's acclaim by a considerably more polite advancement of the same views (except that copernicus, unlike galileo, had something of a valid proof for his heliocentric model.)

the list of those who were motivated in science by their belief in a rational creator reads like a who's who of western civilization: kepler, copernicus, linnaeus, galileo, newton, mendel, kelvin, plank, einstein...these are some of the greatest names in science.  many of them, like mendel, a monk who explored heredity, practically invented their fields from scratch.  the rest are luminaries, revolutionaries, men who are today household names.  men who recognized that the God hypothesis, when held up to the data, consistently bore fruit.  it need not have been thus.  there is no reason the universe should be coherent, or if coherent, then understandable by human intellect alone.  or perhaps it would have been so intertwined that unless the universe were understood completely, no part of it could have been known.  in that case, science would have been a fool's errand from the beginning.  but nothing could be further from the truth.  it seems instead as if the universe has been custom-tailored for our intellects, not easily understandable, but not beyond our collective grasp, either.

rather than operating in contrast to faith, science fulfills it.  the success of western science stands as a tribute to the soundness of its fundamental hypothesis, the belief in a rational creator.  this theory is as well-verified by evidence as any that has ever been, it is better verified, in fact, since its proof lies in nothing less than the body of evidence for all other theories, which are its children and its legacy.

locdog is proud to be a follower of Christ through science as well as the Scriptures



bush/novak vindicated, wilson/plame disgraced

it's not often a story like this comes along. in fact it's hard to see how any other single story could have so much to say on the state of media bias, the corruption and ineptitude at CIA, saddam's intent to pursue weapons of mass destruction, and that bungling boob joe wilson, the inspector clouseau of international intrigue.

just as a refresher, in his 2003 SOTU address, bush delivered the 16 words heard 'round the world, citing british intelligence's discovery of an iraqi plot to purchase uranium from niger.

the CIA had previously sent joe wilson, a former ambassador to niger and iraq with little in the way of an intelligence background, to investigate whether saddam had attempted to purchase any "yellow cake" uranium. on returning from niger, wilson reported that the documents which established the iraqi/nigerian link were forgeries, and when bush referred to the link in his SOTU anyway, he wrote a blistering new york times op-ed in which he blasted the administration's decision to use what he considered thoroughly discredited intelligence as part of the case for war in iraq. the wilson report was hailed by democrats as evidence of bush's mendacity despite the fact that CIA had vetted the speech and that CIA director tenet had accepted responsibility for the yellow cake information being cleared: "The president had every reason to believe the text presented to him was sound."

there the matter sat until robert novak began wondering why a career diplomat with notable leftist tendencies (including contributions to gore in 2000 and kerry in the present race) would be sent on such a critical investigation rather than a trained field operative. in the course of his snooping, novak learned from an unnamed administration official that wilson's wife, valerie plame, worked for the CIA. the suggestion of nepotism perfectly explained the otherwise problematic decision to send joe wilson to niger, and on july 14th, 2003, novak wrote a column disclosing his findings. wilson was outraged at the "outing" of his wife, and viewed it as retaliation by the bush administration against the man who had put the lie to their nuclear justification for the iraq war. a subsequent column by novak made it clear, however, that plame was hardly a deep-cover operative (unnamed CIA sources termed her an analyst), and that her identity was one of those official secrets known to everyone inside the beltway. novak also reported that when he approached CIA on the plame matter, his official contact told him that plame had not inspired the selection of her husband, and had merely been dispatched to request his help--a version that has been frequently and publicly echoed by mr. wilson.

a routine investigation was started to find out who leaked what, as is mandatory for all CIA leaks. mr. wilson, however, took it a bit more personally, saying he would love to see the parties responsible (read "karl rove") "frog-marched" out of the white house in leg irons.

since that time, traces of yellow cake uranium with ties to iraq have been found. specifically, a scrap metal freighter believed to be of iraqi origin turned up in the netherlands, its cargo sprinkled with a radioactive substance that later proved to be yellow cake uranium. the story was virtually ignored. hopefully, this will not be:

Former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, dispatched by the CIA in February 2002 to investigate reports that Iraq sought to reconstitute its nuclear weapons program with uranium from Africa, was specifically recommended for the mission by his wife, a CIA employee, contrary to what he has said publicly.

Wilson last year launched a public firestorm with his accusations that the administration had manipulated intelligence to build a case for war. He has said that his trip to Niger should have laid to rest any notion that Iraq sought uranium there and has said his findings were ignored by the White House.

Wilson's assertions -- both about what he found in Niger and what the Bush administration did with the information -- were undermined yesterday in a bipartisan Senate intelligence committee report.

The panel found that Wilson's report, rather than debunking intelligence about purported uranium sales to Iraq, as he has said, bolstered the case for most intelligence analysts. And contrary to Wilson's assertions and even the government's previous statements, the CIA did not tell the White House it had qualms about the reliability of the Africa intelligence that made its way into 16 fateful words in President Bush's January 2003 State of the Union address.

in the words of the late, great harry caray, HOLY COW!!!

The report turns a harsh spotlight on what Wilson has said about his role in gathering prewar intelligence, most pointedly by asserting that his wife, CIA employee Valerie Plame, recommended him.

The report states that a CIA official told the Senate committee that Plame "offered up" Wilson's name for the Niger trip, then on Feb. 12, 2002, sent a memo to a deputy chief in the CIA's Directorate of Operations saying her husband "has good relations with both the PM [prime minister] and the former Minister of Mines (not to mention lots of French contacts), both of whom could possibly shed light on this sort of activity." The next day, the operations official cabled an overseas officer seeking concurrence with the idea of sending Wilson, the report said.

Wilson has asserted that his wife was not involved in the decision to send him to Niger.

"Valerie had nothing to do with the matter," Wilson wrote in a memoir published this year. "She definitely had not proposed that I make the trip."

Wilson stood by his assertion in an interview yesterday, saying Plame was not the person who made the decision to send him. Of her memo, he said: "I don't see it as a recommendation to send me."

i would say this means joe wilson has some explaining to do, but then, who gives a damn what that fraud has to say? now, CIA, on the other hand, lied to novak and the american people, and may have been actively seeking to undermine the president both in their decision to send a vocal opponent of the iraq war to investigate the brits' claims in the first place, and in their decision to conceal the shady nature of his appointment.

The report said Plame told committee staffers that she relayed the CIA's request to her husband, saying, "there's this crazy report" about a purported deal for Niger to sell uranium to Iraq. The committee found Wilson had made an earlier trip to Niger in 1999 for the CIA, also at his wife's suggestion.

how could anyone find anything prima facie "crazy" with the notion that saddam wanted nuclear weapons? and this woman is supposed working on behalf of our national security. what in the blue hell are they doing at CIA? and are you beginning to get a feel for what sort of politics were in vogue back at the wilson homestead, folks?

it gets better:

The report also said Wilson provided misleading information to The Washington Post last June. He said then that he concluded the Niger intelligence was based on documents that had clearly been forged because "the dates were wrong and the names were wrong."

"Committee staff asked how the former ambassador could have come to the conclusion that the 'dates were wrong and the names were wrong' when he had never seen the CIA reports and had no knowledge of what names and dates were in the reports," the Senate panel said. Wilson told the panel he may have been confused and may have "misspoken" to reporters. The documents -- purported sales agreements between Niger and Iraq -- were not in U.S. hands until eight months after Wilson made his trip to Niger.

and better still:

Wilson said that a former prime minister of Niger, Ibrahim Assane Mayaki, was unaware of any sales contract with Iraq, but said that in June 1999 a businessman approached him, insisting that he meet with an Iraqi delegation to discuss "expanding commercial relations" between Niger and Iraq -- which Mayaki interpreted to mean they wanted to discuss yellowcake sales. A report CIA officials drafted after debriefing Wilson said that "although the meeting took place, Mayaki let the matter drop due to UN sanctions on Iraq."

According to the former Niger mining minister, Wilson told his CIA contacts, Iraq tried to buy 400 tons of uranium in 1998.

and a whole helluva lot worse:

The agency did not examine forged documents that have been widely cited as a reason to dismiss the purported effort by Iraq until months after it obtained them. The panel said it still has "not published an assessment to clarify or correct its position on whether or not Iraq was trying to purchase uranium from Africa."

locdog wonders if we could perhaps fire CIA en masse and start from scratch

update: the post offers this correction:

In some editions of the Post, a July 10 story on a new Senate report on intelligence failures said that former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV told his contacts at the CIA that Iraq had tried to buy 400 tons of uranium from the African nation of Niger in 1998. In fact, it was Iran that was interested in making that purchase, but no contract was signed, according to the report.

doesn't do much to get wilson off the hook in my mind, still, pretty big slip-up on the post's part.