The Long View 2007-10-19: God v. Kant; Democratic League; Talking Shops; Dr. Moreau; Premier Putin

John’s Thomist good sense is on display here:

I am not much distressed by genetic chimeras. There is a human genome, but there is very little DNA that is specifically human. The whole point of molecular genetics is that different organisms use the same components.

I’ve said similar things myself.


God v. Kant; Democratic League; Talking Shops; Dr. Moreau; Premier Putin

God and Epistemological Optimism: Dinesh D'Souza was barking up the wrong tree in his recent comment, What atheists Kant refute, in which he attempts to answer the recent flurry of atheist polemics:

This atheist attack is based on a fallacy – the Fallacy of the Enlightenment. It was pointed out by the great Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant. Kant erected a sturdy intellectual bulwark against atheism that hasn't been breached since. ...The Fallacy of the Enlightenment is the glib assumption that there is only one limit to what human beings can know – reality itself. ...In fact, he argued, there is a much greater limit to what human beings can know. Kant showed that human knowledge is constrained not merely by the unlimited magnitude of reality but also by a limited sensory apparatus of perception.

I have a critique of the Critique of Pure Reason here. Kant imagined that he had refuted the Five Proofs and the Ontological Proof, chiefly by adopting Hume's radical skepticism. Actually, this degree of skepticism is fatal to both science and classical theology: both presuppose something like Aquinas's "moderate realism" to function. Kurt Goedel's critique of formal logic expresses rigorously the intuition that Kant was reaching for: complex systems of explanation are not necessarily wrong, but they are necessarily incomplete. That was, pretty much, the point of the Five Proofs.

* * *

On a merely global topic, we see that doubt has been cast in the US presidential campaign on the necessity of the UN:

PAWLEYS ISLAND, S.C. - Republican White House hopeful Mitt Romney called the United Nations a failure on Thursday and said he would support a new coalition of the free nations of the world...he would support a new "coalition of the free nations of the world and bring those nations together so that we can act together."

"We should develop some of our own — if you will — forums and alliances or groups that have the ability to actually watch out for the world and do what's right," Romney said.

The proposal for a League of Democratic States has many worthy supporters. I think, though, that such a group could not replace the UN. The UN does not wield power; it wields legitimacy. A League would need either to be an alliance within the UN-moderated system, in which case it would be redundant, or it would need to make the same claims of universal authority that the UN makes. Thus, a League would likely create a situation in which there would be two world bodies, both claiming to be the authorized Parliament of Man. It would be the Cold War without the tact.

* * *

Congress is not a good legislature at the forensic level, as Mark Steyn reminds us:

MS: It is, and what’s so pathetic about it is Congress is, as a parliamentary legislature, a debating chamber, to those of us who come from kind of more robust debating cultures, it’s a joke. You’re never challenged on these things. You’re just generally speaking to empty rooms for the benefit of TV cameras. The fact of the matter is that in any reasonable real debating chamber around the world, there would be loud…in the House of Commons in London or in Ottawa or in Canberra, there would be loud boos of shame, and that man would have at least been confronted with the fact that his mouth had run away with him.

Yes, parliament is a good debating shop. I'm told that the House of Lords is still better. As a practical matter, however, parliament is just a place-holder; the real work of legislation goes on in the cabinet. The House of Lords can have intelligent debates because the House has so little effect on government. The US Congress, in contrast, is a fumble-mouthed body that really can act independently of the president.

Is this a pattern: the better the debate, the less consequential the body?

* * *

The Island of Dr. Moreau: A Washington Times commentary, Neither man nor beast, recently took the title of that H.G. Wells novella in vain while criticizing the mixture of the cellular material of humans and other organisms:

The premise of the novel is that a scientist, on a secluded island, undertakes experiments to combine humans and animals.

No, the premise is that a vivisectionist turns animals into humans through painful surgery.

I am not much distressed by genetic chimeras. There is a human genome, but there is very little DNA that is specifically human. The whole point of molecular genetics is that different organisms use the same components.

* * *

Speaking of effective legislatures, we see that President Putin is preparing to change offices:

The new Russian parliament to be elected in December must have more authority than the current one, President Vladimir Putin said as he prepares to step down after eight years as the country's leader and become a lawmaker. He'll enter the State Duma lower chamber representing the United Russia party, which placed him first on its party list. Putin said Oct. 1 he may become prime minister.

Putin also confirmed that he'll leave next year because the constitution doesn't allow a president to serve more than two consecutive terms.

What is it about petrolism that makes the heads of oil-dependent republics take leave of their senses? Is petroleum jinxed?

Copyright © 2007 by John J. Reilly

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